Road to Sustainable Development: Environment, Law and Society

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Last updated: May 25, 2019

Road to Sustainable Development: Environment, Law and SocietyEnvironmental problems of a country depend upon its developments, be iteconomic, financial or social.

The availability of natural resources, thelifestyle and standard of its population also contribute to it. In the recentpast, India’s growth rate had increased considerably, but it also gave place toserious economic, social and environmental problems. There has been economicalinequality and the majorly affected by it are those at the bottom.  There is a need to change major policy issuesto some extent.There are endless government policies which are least used to control theproblems and damages. The enforcement of such endless policies and legislationsis never done wisely due to use of power, political influence of the rulingparties and corruption. With regards to environmental issues in India, Indiaappears to be digging its own grave deeper and quicker than rest of us.

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1The population in the developing countries is increasing at a fast pace whichin turn is posing a problem to meet out their needs even after exploitation ofnatural resources. All these are clubbed and made into a common aim to achieve that isSustainable development. According to Brundtland’s report, sustainable developmentis defined “to meet the needs of thepresent without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirown needs.”2Sustainable development not only includes environmental corner but takesinto account social as well as economic aspects also.OriginThe term sustainable development originated in 1972 in the Stockholmconference usually known as the Stockholm declaration which was the firstconference of UN concerned over international environmental issues. Later tothis, the term sustainable development was defined   in 1980 when International Union forConservation for Nature and Natural resources (IUCN) came up with WorldConservation Strategy aiming to achieve sustainable development through thecontribution of living resource conservation to human survival.3Later in 1982, five principles of conservation were put forward by the UnitedNations World Charter for Nature.

In 1987, the report, ‘our common future’commonly known as the Brundtland’s report as mentioned above definedsustainable development. This report not only defined sustainable developmentin terms of environment but beyond it holding social and economic world too. This report was taken further and discussed under Agenda 21 of UNconference on environment and development which was held in Rio de Janeiro,Brazil. In all these reports and conferences, the major issue which wasdiscussed was the protection of environment and how the earth’s finite naturalresources can be sustained for future generations to come, keeping in mind therising population.Indian viewIn the ancient times, the society paid very much attention overenvironment. Trees, water, land and animals were worshipped by the people andif any injury was caused to them by any individual, then he was to be given apunishment as stated by manusmriti in case of plants.

Kautilya is said to havegone a step further and determined punishments on the basis of the importanceof a particular part of a tree.4Today, environmental concerns include not only air but water, noise, land,forest and wildlife and even protection of ancient monuments. Communityresources such as tanks, ponds, etc. have now been articulated by the SupremeCourt for inclusion in the concept of environment, and why should it not be so,considering they all affect the quality and enjoyment of our life.5In the later phase, during the time of independence, there was noexplicitly written policy on environment in India. It grew over time asconcerns regarding environment kept increasing. Post-Independence India also experienced a rapidexpansion of planned development through the five-year plans and significantcentral revenue outlays for local development through planned schemes that weresponsored by the central government.

6 In the year 1972, the 24thUN general assembly conducted a conference on human environment in Stockholm.Each member country of the United Nations was required to present a report onthe existing state of environment of the country. A committee was made on Humanenvironment in India and Pitambar pant was made the chairman, who was also amember of the planning commission. He made and presented India’s report whichexamined the existing state of environment and issues relating environment dueto population explosion. In the midst of all these issues highlighted by thereport, it was realized that a centralized body was needed to coordinate theenvironmental concerns and its policies. So, a National committee onenvironmental planning and coordination was set up (NCEPC). It is a body whichcoordinates all environmental policies of the state but the work for executionwas still with various ministries of the government.

Environment is a national asset.  Itcannot be treated as an asset to be exploited by the Govt(s) for revenuepurposes.7Environmental jurisprudence in India took shape around the seventies after theStockholm conference in 1972. Though, there was already Wildlife (ProtectionAct) 1972 but it did not comply with the considerations laid in the Stockholmconference. After two years of it, the parliament of India enacted Water(Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

It was the first legislationafter the Stockholm conference. It was passed to control pollution of water.Later to this, in 1976 an amendment to the Constitution of India was done.

Anew chapter of fundamental duties was inserted and Article 48-A8 inthe Directive Principles of State Policy and Article 51-A (g) 9inthe Fundamental Duties of every citizen of India. The year 1980 witnessed anothernew legislation known to be the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 for theconservation of forests and provisions related thereto. Parliament also passedthe Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981 and the EnvironmentProtection Act, 1986 where the latter was enacted as a single authority to lookover the environmental issues in India. The other prior legislations dealt witha specific kind of pollution of environment.

 A cursory analysis of its Preamblemakes it obvious that the objectives of the enactment are three fold. 1.Protection of the environment 2.Improvement of environment 3.

Prevention ofhazards to a) Human beings b) other living creatures c) plants and d) property.10 Morelegislations like the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules in 1989,the Biomedical Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules in 1998, RecycledPlastics (Manufacture and Usage) Rules 1999, Environment (Silting forIndustrial Projects) Rules 1999 and the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management andHandling) Rules in 2000 were passed by the Parliament.Role of Indian judiciaryLaws are the content and language of expression of state power. Law isnot static; nor is it autonomous from society.

It is continuously being formedin society.11Legislaturehas enacted various laws to prevent environment degradation in India. In this situation,superior court has played a pivotal role in interpreting those laws to suit theDoctrine of Sustainable Development.12In the case of Municipal Council, Ratlam13the Supreme Court found that there was a need for strict provisions relatingenvironmental issues. The case had the facts of a residential locality wasfacing problems due to discharge of malodorous fluids from an alcohol plant inpublic streets and also because of the insensitivity of the municipal body formaintaining basic public sanitation. Some people filed a complaint under theprovisions of section 133 of the criminal procedure code which required themunicipal body to perform its statutory duties under section 123 of M.P.Municipalities Act, 1961.

A sub divisional magistrate ordered against themunicipal council but the session’s court rejected the same and held itunjustified. The High Court upheld the views of the sub divisional magistrate.But, the Municipal Council moved to the Supreme Court where it was held by theSupreme Court that: “Public nuisance, because of pollutants being discharged bybig factories to the detriment of the poorer sections, is a challenge to thesocial justice component of the rule of law.”After a year of the Bhopal Gas tragedywhich occurred in the year 1984 killing thousands of people, there was a leakof oleum gas on 6th December 1985. It leaked from the factorypremises of Shriram foods and fertilizer industries in Delhi.

It affected alarge amount of people and killed one person who was a lawyer practicing inDistrict Courts in Delhi. An activist lawyer immediately initiatedproceedings in the Supreme Court9 bringing out the problem caused by theleakage of oleum gas.14An expert committee was set up to look into the matter which pointed outvarious inadequacies in the plant and stated that hazards could not beeliminated till the time the plant remained in its present location. TheSupreme Court appointed an expert committee known as the Nilay ChaudhryCommittee. A consideration of the reports of all these committees showed thatthey were unanimous in concluding that the element of risk to workmen and thepublic could only be minimized, but not totally eliminated.15Big dam projects throughout the countryhave been controversial from a long time.

Between the benefits and the lacunas,the main purpose of the project is almost lost. Between the protests and fightfrom the opposite side, the weaker section of the people becomes the sufferer.One such biggest controversy of India is the Narmada Valley Project. It’s beenfetching great controversies and campaigns since the late 80’s. Thebeneficiaries will include Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and parts ofRajasthan. The main controversies are the interstate rivalries, the conflictsin claiming the benefits of the projects, no certain funding program, andrelocation of a large number of people. In 1961 thefirst Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, laid the foundation stone of a 162 feethigh dam on the Narmada in Bharuch district of Gujarat.

16But it was too small for the purpose.  Butthe controversies grew since 1987 when the construction started. It started in1979 and amidst of all the controversies, in 1992 the World Bank had towithdraw from providing funds.

The main controversy remained that it woulddisplace nearly 200,000 people, many of whom constitute the weaker sections ofthe society and the tribal people. The reservoirs created by the two main damsi.e. the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Narmada Sagar Dam will submerge around 500villages and 1.5 lakh people and nearly 800 cattle heads.  The Narmada Valley Dam Projects will provide water to 20 to40 million people, irrigate 1.8 to 1.

9 million hectares of land, and produce1450 megawatts of power.17Various protests took place after theWorld Bank withdrew from funding these projects, which marked an important partof it. By this time, Narmada Bachao Andolan, a campaign under Ms.

Medha Patkarstarted. Initially it the campaign started for opposing the construction of damas it relocated thousand of people without any certain rehabilitation policyfor them. Later, the andolan concentrated on ecological devastation by the damsand environmental issues due to construction of the dams and reservoirs on theriver Narmada. The delay is the main problem which not only affected the peoplewho were dislocated but also the land which was now under construction for thedam could not be used for any other purpose either. The delay continued whenthe matter reached the Supreme Court and it ordered for a stay over theconstruction of the Sardar Sarovar dam.

Meanwhile the people at the bottomsuffered the most. They lost their homes, their occupation as major tribeswould depend upon agricultural and fishing activities. The apex court gave ajudgment to start the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam in October 2000.As the World Bank withdrew from funding, the project is now financed by thestate governments and various market borrowings.The issue to be dealt in this paper is theproblem of the tribes and persons who had been relocated and the area coveredby such big projects are left useless because of the delay in the completion ofsuch projects. What need to be changed are the major policy issues.

Manyenvironmentalists put forward that the major cause is the population growth inIndia which thus leads to depletion of natural resources and environmentalconcerns. But population is not the only cause of it as China; the mostpopulated country has also achieved its sustainable goals. Thething about multipurpose dams like the Sardar Sarovar is that their purposes(irrigation, power production, and flood control) conflict with one another.Its multi purpose tag having to irrigate land, producing power and control offlood conflict with each other at a point. The water needed for irrigation isused and no water is left for production of power.

For controlling the flood,reservoirs are needed to be empty. But in India, rains are the most uncertainthing. If the reservoirs are kept empty and no rains are there, the reservoiris left empty. Empty dam would no more be able to irrigate land. This viciouscycle thus failed to accomplish the purpose it wanted.

It is also taken inaccount by the experts that the amount of power needed to pump water from thereservoirs will use up more energy than produced. The inter state conflictsalso take up the major part. The construction of dams dislocates majorpopulation of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, while the beneficiaries of thedam are the people of Gujarat. Amongall such factors against the building of the dam, relocated people are hit theworst.

What about the policies which need to be changed? The policies need tobe changed in a direction where such projects are examined properly before anywork is being started. The agitations and the people and organizations in favorof the projects fighting against each other, having to get the development moredelayed is not an option to it. Thus, the development projects maybe goodenough for the country’s population and also its development but not at thecost of its population only and the land which can be used for some otherpurpose till the time it has been useless while the delay and controversies areon.ConclusionThemajor policy issues are to be changed to the extent that their implementationsare done wisely.

Leaving the controversial lands of no use till the time thecontroversy is not solved but the construction has started and halted latershould not be done. Such large forests land can be used for other purposeswhich is a home for plenty of flora and fauna and also the tribes which getmajorly affected. Sustainable development is a term not clearly defined.

It hasdifferent meanings. The using of natural resources in such a sustainable mannerso that they are preserved for the future generations also. The Narmada ValleyProject and other such big development projects which propose the benefits forthe rural population also hinders the environmental legislations and otherecological balances which in turn leads to failure of the mission thought.Toachieve sustainable development, the government’s policies should work onexpert’s opinions and also with pre reviewed plans. The policies of India lackthe implementation techniques. There are endless government policies which areleast used to control the problems and damages. Had they been implemented witha proper implementation technique, India wouldn’t have been fighting for developmenttill now. The quest for development of India is hurdled by various factors likepolitical influence of the ruling party, corruption and the use of power.

Anexample to the political influence of the ruling party can be seen in India.The holy river Ganga is being polluted by the Hindu devotees. The ruling partyi.e. the Bhartiya Janta Party, would never be against taking bath in the holyriver, the flowers and other materials used for the rituals, scattering asheswhich in turn pollutes the river. What the party does is how to prevent suchpollution by appointing committees and various action plans spending millionsof money. It would not emphasize over the fact that prevention is better thancure. The effect it is having on the lives of the people is extreme.

Thepresumed holy and pure Ganga is not pure anymore. What if the ruling party inthe country is not a religious party unlike others? What if the ruling party isa muslim party? Would the things be the same as they are now? A debatable topicindeed. Recently,a student of National Law University, Odisha, filed a case against the MadhyaPradesh government for the desecration of water bodies and the dried up lakes.He fought the court case in National Green Tribunal and won. The court ordered tofine the violating persons up to Rs.

5,000 based on the polluter paysprinciple. Here it was one student, what India needs is hundreds and thousandsof such students who can give the lacking situation of the country a 360 degreeround. Sustainable development and the achievement of growing India with ahappy environment can only be possible if the policies are looked up to andfollowed up for implementation as thought. Otherwise the lacking points wouldnever be covered.         1 Nations Report of the World Commission onEnvironment and Development, General AssemblyResolution 42/187 1987 Dec 113IUCN, World Conservation Strategy: Living resource conservation for sustainabledevelopment (Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Natureand Natural Resources, United Nations Environment Program and World WildlifeFund, 1980)4C.

M. Jariwala, “Changing Dimensions of Indian Environmental Law”, in Law andEnvironment (P. Leelakrishnan (ed.), Lucknow: Eastern Book Co.

, 1992) p.1 at 25Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamala Devi, (2001) 6 SCC 496: “The material resources ofthe community like forests, tanks, ponds, hillock, mountain etc. are nature’sbounty. They maintain delicate ecological balance. They need to be protectedfor a proper and healthy environment which enables people to enjoy a qualitylife which is the essence of the guaranteed right under Article 21 of theConstitution.

“6 K.SIVARAMAKRISHNAN, “Environment, Law, and Democracy in India”, The Journal ofAsian Studies, Vol. 70, No. 4 (NOVEMBER 2011), pp. 905-928 7 Hon’ble Shri S.H. Kapadia, Reframing ofWelfare Rights under the Indian Constitution, UNCATEGORIZED by NNLRJINDIA on December 14, 2010.

Available at: and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife.

– The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and tosafeguard the forests and wild life of the country.9Fundamental duties. – It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protectand improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.10Dr.N. Maheswara Swamy, Law relating to Environmental Pollution and Protection: p.

10711Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 50 (Dec. 10, 1994), pp. 3138-314112 Gosh. S. S, Sustainable Development and IndianJudiciary, Legal Service India.

com. Available at: Council, Ratlam v.

Shri Virdichan and others, (1980) 4 SCC 16214M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1986) 2 SCC 176, (1986) 2 SCC 325 and (1987) 1SCC 39515,Madan B. Lokur Judge, Delhi High Court, ENVIRONMENTALLAW: ITS DEVELOPMENT AND JURISPRUDENCE”.

Available at:, Understanding the NarmadaControversy, Available at:’sGreatest planned environmental disaster: The Narmada Valley Dam Projects.Available at:


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