CIVIL

Sustainable development

Apex Court in the case of Vellore Citizen’s Welfare Forum v. Union of India and Others [(1996)5 SCC 647] Again in this decision, the public trust doctrine was invoked by the Apex Court. The Apex Court dealt with concept of “sustainable development”. What is relevant is paragraph 11 of the said decision which reads thus :

“11. Some of the salient principles of “Sustainable Development”, as culled-out from Brundtland Report and other international documents, are Inter-Generational Equity, Use and Conservation of Nature Resources, Environmental Protection, the Precautionary Principle, Polluter Pays principle, Obligation to assist and cooperate, Eradication of Poverty and Financial Assistance to the developing countries. We are, however, of the view that “The Precautionary Principle” and “The Polluter Pays” principle are essential features of “Sustainable Development”. The “Precautionary Principle” – in the context of the municipal law – means.

(i) Environment measures – by the State Government and the statutory Authorities must anticipate, prevent’ and attack the causes of environmental degradation.

(ii) Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage lack of scientific certainly should not be used as the reason for postponing, measures to prevent environmental depredation.

(iii) The “Onus of proof” is on the actor or the developer/industrial to show that his action is environmentally benign”.

This is a decision which introduces a Rule of burden of proof in the matters of environment by making a departure from the traditional Rule. The decision of the Apex Court in M. C. Mehta and Others v. Union of India [(1997)3 SCC 715] invokes the “Precautionary principle”. The Apex Court held that Precautionary Principle has been accepted as a part of the law of the land. Various Articles of the Constitution of India including Article 21, 47, 48-A and 51-A(g) give a clear mandate to the State to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. It lays down that it is the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures. It is a mandatory duty of the State to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environment degradation. In fact the Apex Court in the facts of the case held that in order to protect the two lakes from environmental degradation, it is necessary to limit the construction activity in the close vicinity of the lakes.

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