After the economy of the world got disturbed by eminent world wars, world
communities went for more and more industrialization without concerning the
utmost importance of nature and natural resources. The more industries lead to
scarcity of natural environment which brought up the new concept of sustainable
development at International level. This concept has acquired different
dimensions in terms of economic growth, development and environment protection.
Phillip Sands in his famous book ,"International law in the field of sustainable
development " gave four goals of sustainable development which are as under:
- Commitment towards the preservation of nature and natural resources. This duty is out upon both individual and community at large.
- Appropriate measures for exploitation of resources
- There must be the integration of environmental concerns to the developmental concerns.
- Just, Fair and equitable use of natural resources.
If we look at the history or the origin of sustainable development, it was
formulated under the Stockholm Conference of 1972 which is also called the
"Magna Carta on human environment". After twenty years, in 1992, the concept of
sustainable development was given much significance in in Rio Declaration. Then
ultimately in 2002, the world summit on sustainable development took place in
Johannesburg, which focused on the collective responsibility of all the states
of world in the economic as well as social development. It also ensure that such
development shall not be carried out at the cost of environment at global level.
So, the main focus of sustainable development is to balance the environmental
protection and developmental activities. For this purpose, certain measures or
principles have been made which are necessarily to be followed. These principles
have been carved out from ," Brundtland Report1992". Other documents like Rio
Declaration 1992 and Agenda 21 have also given importance to these principles
and implementation there off.
These salient features are as under:
- Intergenerational equity:
It means that every generation is having a right to get benefitted from the
natural resources that are there. But at the same time , every generation is
under an obligation to preserve such heritage for the future ones , so that
they may also enjoy the same.
In State Of Meghalaya Vs All Dimasa Students Union , it was held that
natural resources of the country are not meant to be consumed only by the
present generation. These treasures of nature are for all generations to
come and present generation owes a duty to preserve and conserve the same.
- Use and conservation of natural resources:
This is quite similar to the above principle . It suggests that present
generation should make limited use of resources. We , as present generation
should not make use of resources in such a way that we become unable to use
them in future. We must conserve both flora and fauna for the benefit of
both present as well as future generations through proper planning and
- Environmental protection:
It is an essential part of sustainable development. Because if there would
be shortage of resources, it will undermine the development and without
development, world economy would suffer. It is often the poor who suffers
much from environmental degradation because unlike rich the poor cannot
afford to protect themselves from contaminated water or anything like that.
In Citizen, Consumer And Civic Action Group Vs Union Of India, where
an NGO filed PIL for addressing the grievances caused by severe soil and
water pollution due to the discharge of un treated sewage water from
tanneries. Then the supreme court held that if the society has to prosper ,
it shall not be at the expanse of environment. Like wise environment shall
not be protected at the cost of development. There must be balance between
the two . They must coexist and must go hand in hand.
- Precautionary principle:
As per this principle, substance or any activity is prevented from adversely
affecting the environment which is posing a threat to the environment even
if there is no link between that substance and environmental damage. This
principle is based on sort of anticipatory action which is to be taken to
prevent the harm. But the application of this principle is not easy.
Sometimes it may result in irreversible damage to the environment and
sometimes it may cause damage to economic interests. But it has been seen in
most of the cases that the predominance is given to the environment over
economy. In A.P.Control Pollution Board Vs Prof Mv Nayadu, it has
been said that it is better to go wrong in taking measures for environmental
protection rather waiting for the repercussions.
Further this principle was recognized by almost all conventions at
International level. In Earth Summit 1992, this principle was elaborated and
was given much significance
In Vellore Citizens welfare forum vs U.O.I(1996), the court held that
precautionary principle and polluter pays principal are essential features
of sustainable development. Also the document ,"caring for earth "produced
by world conservation union in 1991 has recognized the same.
The same principle has been applied in M.C.Mehta Vs U.O.I (1997
popularly known as Taj Mahal Case And Narmada Bachao Andolan Vs U.O.I..
- Polluter pays principle:
It says that polluter is not only liable to pay the cost of environmental
degradation to the individual, who got suffered but polluter is having a
duty to compensate and restore the environment or ecology. This principle
was introduced by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
which was earlier known as Organization for European and Economic
In Indian Council For Envirolegal Action Vs U.O.I ,where a notice was
brought by the organization, where in the sufferings of people of Bichri
village of Rajasthan were highlighted because of industries which were
involved in manufacturing certain chemicals. With the result different toxic
substances were discharged from the same. Considering this matter, supreme
court held that those who are engaged in an activity which is inherently
dangerous are absolutely liable for the consequences. They have to
compensate the people of that area as well as they have to restore the
environment back to its normal position.
In Ishwar Singh Vs S.O.Haryana (1955), there were some stone crushers
who were restricted from carrying out any sort of stone crushing activities
within prescribed limit. Despite of the restrictions, they continue the
same. It was contented that such activities were causing breathing or
respiratory problems. So ,they were directed to change the place of business
and to compensate those who get affected.
- Obligation to Assist and co-operate:
Environmental problem being a global issue , can be tackled down only with
the assistance and cooperation of all the states which are there. States are
under an obligation to co-operate in good faith in the further development
of international law in the field of sustainable development. This feature
is laid down under principle 9 ,10 , 12 and 27 of Rio Declaration. Further,
this principle says that Environmental problems can be carved out by the
best model of the participation of all the people at different levels of the
- Eradication of poverty:
It has been said , "the worst pollutant we face is the poverty". Brundtland
commission has pointed out that it is the poverty which is responsible for
over exploitation of resources because it increases pressure on ecology and
results in depletion. It is one of the factors that reduces the tendency of
people to use the resources in a sustainable way.
- Financial assistance to developing countries:
As we know the fact that developing countries do not possess much technology
and finances to sustain their life. They go for over exploitation of
resources to satisfy their basic human needs. So, to curb such exploitation
what is required is that developing countries must be provided financial
assistance as well as the technologies from the developed nations must be
transferred to developing countries to achieve the goal of sustainable
- Doctrine of public trust:
This doctrine was propounded by the Roman Empire around 1500 years ago. In
india, this doctrine has been evolved by the court practices and is also
having tremendous significance in the Indian constitution.
In M.C.Mehta Vs Kamalnath (1996),
This doctrine has been used for the
first time. This case is also known as SPAN MOTAL CASE, wherein span motels Ltd.
was the name of the company which has to construct a hotel( motel) on the banks
of river( Beas) . They were allowed to change the course of the river by the
ministry of Environment for their construction purposes. The company encroached
upon certain area of land which also included in it the forest land.
The land was subsequently leased out to the company thereafter. Then their
encroachment had a very bad impact on the Environment because For more than 5
months the Span Resorts management moved bulldozers to change the course of the
river which later on caused floods in the river results in huge destruction of
property. Then the court held that state is a trustee of all the resources which
falls under its ambit and these resources are not for the commercial purposes of
anyone rather they are of huge public importance. State is under an obligation
to preserve, protect and prevent such heritage for the public use only and not
for private purposes because these resources are common to all.
So, we have seen that there are measures that can be taken as preventive
measures for the Environmental degradation. This is only possible if we take
such problem into consideration and adopt a proper mechanism for their
implementation. The most important thing which is required is the political will
of the states to act in cooperation and coordination to resolve the challenges
of Environmental protection and to protect the earth from further deterioration.
Written By: Daima Khanam,
- Environmental law(2021), Dr. Paramjit S. Jaswal, Dr. Nishtha Jaswal ,
- Dr.Vinay N. Paranjape, "Environmental Law" (2013) Central Law Agency.
Central University of Kashmir