A list of countries ranked by total greenhouse-gas emissions was made in 2005. It was based on data for carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, per fluorocarbon, hydro fluorocarbon, and sulfur hexafluoride emissions compiled by the World Resources Institute[1].

In this list India was ranked as seventh most carbon dioxide emitting country in the world. India alone comprises of 4.25% of global emission of Green House Gases (GHGs). Out of top 10 GHG emitting countries there are only three developing countries. Hence, we cannot impose any allegation on the developing economies that they are the only GHG emitters. Instead the developed countries shall join hands with the developing economies in order to reduce or mitigate emission of GHGs or other factors that is or that can cause climatic changes.

India being a developing country has to compromise with environment at many points and exploitation of natural resources is essential for economic progress through industrial development. While the international and national laws and policies have already provided various guidelines- legal or executive, the concept of sustainable development requires still a special attention and emphasis to bring awareness among industrialists and others engaged in the depletion of natural resources. With a view to achieve the goal of sustainable development the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in a series of landmark judgments has not only explained the principle of sustainable development but had also imposed obligations for thereto. The following landmark judgments will focus more on the instant issue:

Essential Features of Sustainable Development:

The two essential legal principles basing on the foundation of the sustainable development are:

Precautionary Principle

In other words, in countries like India “Sustainable Development” is the pivot which connects the two wheels of progress that are economic development and environmental protection. In the case of Vellore Citizen Welfare Form versus Union of India and others, AIR 1996 SC 2715, polluter pays principle as interpreted by the Supreme Court means that the absolute liability for harm to the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution, but also the cost of restoring the environmental degradation. Remediation of environment is the part of the process of sustainable development and therefore the polluter is liable not only to pay the cost to the individual users but also to the cost of reversing the damaged ecology.[2]

Polluter Pay Principle

In A.P. Pollution Control Board versus Prof. M.V. Nayadu (Retd.) and others AIR 1999 SC 812, honorable Supreme Court held that inadequacies of science are the real basis that has led to the precautionary principle of 1982. It is based on the philosophy that, it is better to err on the side of caution and prevent environmental harm which may indeed become irreversible. The principle of precaution involves the anticipation of environmental harm and taking measures to avoid it or to choose the least environmentally harmful activity. It is based on the scientific uncertainty.[3] Environmental protection should not only aim at protecting health, property and economic interest but also protect the environment for its own sake. Precautionary duties must not only be triggered off by the suspicion of concrete danger but also justified concern on risk potential. This principle suggests that where there is an identifiable risk of serious or irreversible harm, including, for example, extinction of species, widespread toxic pollution and major threats to essential ecological processes, it may be appropriate to place the burden of proof on the person or entity proposing the activity that is potentially harmful to the environment.

In the case of Delhi Gas Leak Case, also called M.C.Mehta versus Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 965 popularly known as Oleum Gas Leak Case, the Supreme Court of India was confronted with multidimensional and complex issues relating to environmental pollution such as concerning the true scope and ambit of Article 21 and 32 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court laid down two important principles of law: First, the power of Supreme Court to grant remedial relief for a proved infringement of a fundamental right (in case of article 21) includes the power to award compensation. Thus, the court not only widened the scope of article 21 but also included a liability – in tort for those harmed others by pollution. Second, the judgment opened a new frontier in the Indian jurisprudence by introducing a new fault liability standard (absolute liability) for industries engaged in hazardous activities which has brought about radical changes in the liability and compensation laws in India. The new standard makes hazardous industries absolutely liable from the harm resulting from its activities.[4]

Mining activity at Aravali Hill range shall be permitted on the basis of sustainable development: - In M.C.Mehta versus Union of India and others, AIR 2004 SC 4016, the question for examination of the Supreme Court was whether the mining activity in the area up to 5 kilometers from the Delhi-Haryana border on the Haryana side of the ridge and also in the Aravali Hills causes environment degradation and what directions were required to be issued. The contention of the mine operators was that the pollution, if any, thus generated by the mining activities cannot go beyond a distance of 1km and the stoppage was wholly unjustified.[5]

In the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan etc versus Union of India and others, AIR 2000 SC 3751, with a majority voice held inter alia, that where the effects of setting up of an industry on ecology or environment is known, what has to be seen is that if the environment is likely to suffer, then what mitigate steps can be taken to off-set the same. “Mere because there will be a change is a no reason to presume that there will be ecological disaster. It is when the effect of the project is known then the principle of sustainable development would come into play which will ensure that mitigate steps are and can be taken to preserve the ecological balance. Sustainable development means what type or extent of development can take place which can be sustained by nature/ecology with or without mitigation”.[6]

Thus, it is clear that India has responded well in the regard to the principle of sustainable development. Mere constitutional norms and principles and statutory laws can never be an effective instrument of reform unless it is clubbed with social actors and judicial approach. The judicial process in environmental litigation has been very important in India. The civil law, criminal law and ordinary legal processes provide sources of environmental remedies. Moreover, the traditional concept of locus standii has given way to dynamic concept of public interest litigation (PIL) or social action litigation (SAL). The prevention and control of pollution and the protection of the environment is an area which has attracted the largest number of PILs in India. Prof. C.M. Jariwala in his article Judicial Process in Action: Some Facets says that a variety of subjects relating to protection of environment have come up in PILs.



[1] "Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) Version 9.0. (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 2011)".  World Resources Institute. Retrieved 2011-12-16.

[2] Textbook on Environmental Law by Dr. N. Maheshwara Swamy; pg: 97, Year: 2010.

[3] Textbook on Environmental Law by Dr. N. Maheshwara Swamy; pg: 98, Year: 2010.

[4] “A Critical Study of Development of International Legal Norms of Environmental Protection: With Special Reference to Climate Change.”, by Dr. Piyush Kumar Trivedi

[5] Textbook on Environmental Law by Dr. N. Maheshwara Swamy; pg: 100, Year: 2010.

[6] Textbook on Environmental Law by Dr. N. Maheshwara Swamy; pg: 100, Year: 2010.