Road to Sustainable Development: Environment, Law and Society

Road to Sustainable Development: Environment, Law and Society

Environmental problems of a country depend upon its developments, be it
economic, financial or social. The availability of natural resources, the
lifestyle and standard of its population also contribute to it. In the recent
past, India’s growth rate had increased considerably, but it also gave place to
serious economic, social and environmental problems. There has been economical
inequality and the majorly affected by it are those at the bottom.  There is a need to change major policy issues
to some extent.

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There are endless government policies which are least used to control the
problems and damages. The enforcement of such endless policies and legislations
is never done wisely due to use of power, political influence of the ruling
parties and corruption. With regards to environmental issues in India, India
appears to be digging its own grave deeper and quicker than rest of us.1
The population in the developing countries is increasing at a fast pace which
in turn is posing a problem to meet out their needs even after exploitation of
natural resources.

All these are clubbed and made into a common aim to achieve that is
Sustainable development. According to Brundtland’s report, sustainable development
is defined “to meet the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their
own needs.”2
Sustainable development not only includes environmental corner but takes
into account social as well as economic aspects also.


The term sustainable development originated in 1972 in the Stockholm
conference usually known as the Stockholm declaration which was the first
conference of UN concerned over international environmental issues. Later to
this, the term sustainable development was defined   in 1980 when International Union for
Conservation for Nature and Natural resources (IUCN) came up with World
Conservation Strategy aiming to achieve sustainable development through the
contribution of living resource conservation to human survival.3
Later in 1982, five principles of conservation were put forward by the United
Nations World Charter for Nature. In 1987, the report, ‘our common future’
commonly known as the Brundtland’s report as mentioned above defined
sustainable development. This report not only defined sustainable development
in terms of environment but beyond it holding social and economic world too.

This report was taken further and discussed under Agenda 21 of UN
conference on environment and development which was held in Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil. In all these reports and conferences, the major issue which was
discussed was the protection of environment and how the earth’s finite natural
resources can be sustained for future generations to come, keeping in mind the
rising population.

Indian view

In the ancient times, the society paid very much attention over
environment. Trees, water, land and animals were worshipped by the people and
if any injury was caused to them by any individual, then he was to be given a
punishment as stated by manusmriti in case of plants. Kautilya is said to have
gone a step further and determined punishments on the basis of the importance
of a particular part of a tree.4
Today, environmental concerns include not only air but water, noise, land,
forest and wildlife and even protection of ancient monuments. Community
resources such as tanks, ponds, etc. have now been articulated by the Supreme
Court 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.5

In the later phase, during the time of independence, there was no
explicitly written policy on environment in India. It grew over time as
concerns regarding environment kept increasing. Post-Independence India also experienced a rapid
expansion of planned development through the five-year plans and significant
central revenue outlays for local development through planned schemes that were
sponsored by the central government.6

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

Environment is a national asset.  It
cannot be treated as an asset to be exploited by the Govt(s) for revenue
Environmental jurisprudence in India took shape around the seventies after the
Stockholm conference in 1972. Though, there was already Wildlife (Protection
Act) 1972 but it did not comply with the considerations laid in the Stockholm
conference. After two years of it, the parliament of India enacted Water
(Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. It was the first legislation
after 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. A
new chapter of fundamental duties was inserted and Article 48-A8 in
the Directive Principles of State Policy and Article 51-A (g) 9in
the Fundamental Duties of every citizen of India. The year 1980 witnessed another
new legislation known to be the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 for the
conservation of forests and provisions related thereto. Parliament also passed
the Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environment
Protection Act, 1986 where the latter was enacted as a single authority to look
over the environmental issues in India. The other prior legislations dealt with
a specific kind of pollution of environment.

 A cursory analysis of its Preamble
makes it obvious that the objectives of the enactment are three fold. 1.
Protection of the environment 2.Improvement of environment 3. Prevention of
hazards to a) Human beings b) other living creatures c) plants and d) property.10 More
legislations like the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules in 1989,
the Biomedical Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules in 1998, Recycled
Plastics (Manufacture and Usage) Rules 1999, Environment (Silting for
Industrial Projects) Rules 1999 and the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and
Handling) Rules in 2000 were passed by the Parliament.

Role of Indian judiciary

Laws are the content and language of expression of state power. Law is
not static; nor is it autonomous from society. It is continuously being formed
in society.11Legislature
has 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 the
Doctrine of Sustainable Development.12

In the case of Municipal Council, Ratlam13
the Supreme Court found that there was a need for strict provisions relating
environmental issues. The case had the facts of a residential locality was
facing problems due to discharge of malodorous fluids from an alcohol plant in
public streets and also because of the insensitivity of the municipal body for
maintaining basic public sanitation. Some people filed a complaint under the
provisions of section 133 of the criminal procedure code which required the
municipal body to perform its statutory duties under section 123 of M.P.
Municipalities Act, 1961. A sub divisional magistrate ordered against the
municipal council but the session’s court rejected the same and held it
unjustified. 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 the
Supreme Court that: “Public nuisance, because of pollutants being discharged by
big factories to the detriment of the poorer sections, is a challenge to the
social justice component of the rule of law.”

After a year of the Bhopal Gas tragedy
which occurred in the year 1984 killing thousands of people, there was a leak
of oleum gas on 6th December 1985. It leaked from the factory
premises of Shriram foods and fertilizer industries in Delhi. It affected a
large amount of people and killed one person who was a lawyer practicing in
District Courts in Delhi. An activist lawyer immediately initiated
proceedings in the Supreme Court9 bringing out the problem caused by the
leakage of oleum gas.14
An expert committee was set up to look into the matter which pointed out
various inadequacies in the plant and stated that hazards could not be
eliminated till the time the plant remained in its present location. The
Supreme Court appointed an expert committee known as the Nilay Chaudhry
Committee. A consideration of the reports of all these committees showed that
they were unanimous in concluding that the element of risk to workmen and the
public could only be minimized, but not totally eliminated.15

Big dam projects throughout the country
have 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 fight
from 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 been
fetching great controversies and campaigns since the late 80’s. The
beneficiaries will include Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and parts of
Rajasthan. The main controversies are the interstate rivalries, the conflicts
in claiming the benefits of the projects, no certain funding program, and
relocation of a large number of people. In 1961 the
first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, laid the foundation stone of a 162 feet
high dam on the Narmada in Bharuch district of Gujarat.16
But it was too small for the purpose.

the controversies grew since 1987 when the construction started. It started in
1979 and amidst of all the controversies, in 1992 the World Bank had to
withdraw from providing funds. The main controversy remained that it would
displace nearly 200,000 people, many of whom constitute the weaker sections of
the society and the tribal people. The reservoirs created by the two main dams
i.e. the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the Narmada Sagar Dam will submerge around 500
villages and 1.5 lakh people and nearly 800 cattle heads.  The Narmada Valley Dam Projects will provide water to 20 to
40 million people, irrigate 1.8 to 1.9 million hectares of land, and produce
1450 megawatts of power.17

Various protests took place after the
World Bank withdrew from funding these projects, which marked an important part
of it. By this time, Narmada Bachao Andolan, a campaign under Ms. Medha Patkar
started. Initially it the campaign started for opposing the construction of dam
as it relocated thousand of people without any certain rehabilitation policy
for them. Later, the andolan concentrated on ecological devastation by the dams
and environmental issues due to construction of the dams and reservoirs on the
river Narmada. The delay is the main problem which not only affected the people
who were dislocated but also the land which was now under construction for the
dam could not be used for any other purpose either. The delay continued when
the matter reached the Supreme Court and it ordered for a stay over the
construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam. Meanwhile the people at the bottom
suffered the most. They lost their homes, their occupation as major tribes
would depend upon agricultural and fishing activities. The apex court gave a
judgment 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 the
state governments and various market borrowings.

The issue to be dealt in this paper is the
problem of the tribes and persons who had been relocated and the area covered
by such big projects are left useless because of the delay in the completion of
such projects. What need to be changed are the major policy issues. Many
environmentalists put forward that the major cause is the population growth in
India which thus leads to depletion of natural resources and environmental
concerns. But population is not the only cause of it as China; the most
populated country has also achieved its sustainable goals.

thing 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 of
flood conflict with each other at a point. The water needed for irrigation is
used 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 uncertain
thing. If the reservoirs are kept empty and no rains are there, the reservoir
is left empty. Empty dam would no more be able to irrigate land. This vicious
cycle thus failed to accomplish the purpose it wanted. It is also taken in
account by the experts that the amount of power needed to pump water from the
reservoirs will use up more energy than produced. The inter state conflicts
also take up the major part. The construction of dams dislocates major
population of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, while the beneficiaries of the
dam are the people of Gujarat.

all such factors against the building of the dam, relocated people are hit the
worst. What about the policies which need to be changed? The policies need to
be changed in a direction where such projects are examined properly before any
work is being started. The agitations and the people and organizations in favor
of the projects fighting against each other, having to get the development more
delayed is not an option to it. Thus, the development projects maybe good
enough for the country’s population and also its development but not at the
cost of its population only and the land which can be used for some other
purpose till the time it has been useless while the delay and controversies are


major policy issues are to be changed to the extent that their implementations
are done wisely. Leaving the controversial lands of no use till the time the
controversy is not solved but the construction has started and halted later
should not be done. Such large forests land can be used for other purposes
which is a home for plenty of flora and fauna and also the tribes which get
majorly affected. Sustainable development is a term not clearly defined. It has
different meanings. The using of natural resources in such a sustainable manner
so that they are preserved for the future generations also. The Narmada Valley
Project and other such big development projects which propose the benefits for
the rural population also hinders the environmental legislations and other
ecological balances which in turn leads to failure of the mission thought.

achieve sustainable development, the government’s policies should work on
expert’s opinions and also with pre reviewed plans. The policies of India lack
the implementation techniques. There are endless government policies which are
least used to control the problems and damages. Had they been implemented with
a proper implementation technique, India wouldn’t have been fighting for development
till now. The quest for development of India is hurdled by various factors like
political influence of the ruling party, corruption and the use of power. An
example 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 party
i.e. the Bhartiya Janta Party, would never be against taking bath in the holy
river, the flowers and other materials used for the rituals, scattering ashes
which in turn pollutes the river. What the party does is how to prevent such
pollution by appointing committees and various action plans spending millions
of money. It would not emphasize over the fact that prevention is better than
cure. The effect it is having on the lives of the people is extreme. The
presumed holy and pure Ganga is not pure anymore. What if the ruling party in
the country is not a religious party unlike others? What if the ruling party is
a muslim party? Would the things be the same as they are now? A debatable topic

a student of National Law University, Odisha, filed a case against the Madhya
Pradesh 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 to
fine the violating persons up to Rs. 5,000 based on the polluter pays
principle. Here it was one student, what India needs is hundreds and thousands
of such students who can give the lacking situation of the country a 360 degree
round. Sustainable development and the achievement of growing India with a
happy environment can only be possible if the policies are looked up to and
followed up for implementation as thought. Otherwise the lacking points would
never be covered.  








2United Nations Report of the World Commission on
Environment and Development, General Assembly
Resolution 42/187 1987 Dec 11

IUCN, World Conservation Strategy: Living resource conservation for sustainable
development (Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature
and Natural Resources, United Nations Environment Program and World Wildlife
Fund, 1980)

C.M. Jariwala, “Changing Dimensions of Indian Environmental Law”, in Law and
Environment (P. Leelakrishnan (ed.), Lucknow: Eastern Book Co., 1992) p.1 at 2

Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamala Devi, (2001) 6 SCC 496: “The material resources of
the community like forests, tanks, ponds, hillock, mountain etc. are nature’s
bounty. They maintain delicate ecological balance. They need to be protected
for a proper and healthy environment which enables people to enjoy a quality
life which is the essence of the guaranteed right under Article 21 of the

6 K.
SIVARAMAKRISHNAN, “Environment, Law, and Democracy in India”, The Journal of
Asian Studies, Vol. 70, No. 4 (NOVEMBER 2011), pp. 905-928

7 Hon’ble Shri S.H. Kapadia, Reframing of
Welfare Rights under the Indian Constitution, UNCATEGORIZED by NNLRJ
INDIA on December 14, 2010. Available at:

Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild
life. – The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to
safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.

Fundamental duties. – It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect
and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild
life, and to have compassion for living creatures.

N. Maheswara Swamy, Law relating to Environmental Pollution and Protection: p.

Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 29, No. 50 (Dec. 10, 1994), pp. 3138-3141

12 Gosh. S. S, Sustainable Development and Indian
Judiciary, Legal Service Available at:

Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Shri Virdichan and others, (1980) 4 SCC 162

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1986) 2 SCC 176, (1986) 2 SCC 325 and (1987) 1
SCC 395

Madan B. Lokur Judge, Delhi High Court, ENVIRONMENTAL

Shukla, Understanding the Narmada
Controversy, Available at:

Greatest planned environmental disaster: The Narmada Valley Dam Projects.
Available at:



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