This article is written by Saurav Narayan pursuing a Litigation Library.  This article has been edited by Zigishu (Associate, Lawsikho). 

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


Man became more materialistic as civilization progressed. His primary purpose in life was to amass increasing amounts of material wealth. This sparked scientific innovation and new technology, paving the door for natural resource exploitation. The deterioration of the environment became a possible threat because of rapid and unregulated industrialization. Large-scale pollution and damage to the earth’s ecology occurred as a result of the Second World War and the industrial disaster. People began to realize that if this persisted, man’s very life would be risked.

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Environmental contamination has long been a problem in India. As a result, Articles 47, 48, and 48A were already included in the Constitution by the framers. The state is entrusted with a set of responsibilities under these articles to protect the environment and conserve the country’s natural resources. The Parliament added Article 51(1)(g) into the constitution since India was a signatory to the Stockholm Declaration of 1972. Individuals have a responsibility to maintain and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, as well as to have compassion for living creatures, according to this article. Apart from that, the Parliament passed numerous anti-pollution laws, such as the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986, The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act 1981, The Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Act 1972, The Biological Diversity Act 2002, etc. to protect the Environment.

The Supreme Court of India is a well-respected institution; in general, the public views the Supreme Court of India favorably compared to the state’s legislative and executive branches. The Supreme Court has successfully dealt with a complex, multifaceted, and rapidly increasing and changing field of technology and multi-disciplines. Judicial activism has resulted in numerous developments and has provided the valuable raw material for the development of a comprehensive Indian environmental law. Thus, in the sphere of environmental justice administration, the Supreme Court of India has stood tallest not only before the legislature and executive but also before its counterparts in developed and developing countries, whether old or young.

The Indian Constitution ensures that the judiciary is free from the influence of the legislature and the executive branch of government, making it less vulnerable to pressure from both organs of government.

The remaining part of the paper is split into five sections. The following part delves into the existing literature on Sustainable Development. Part 3: the Indian judiciary’s crucial role in interpreting laws to suit the sustainable development doctrine, followed by a court verdict pertaining to Environment protection in Part 4. The conclusion and Suggestions are presented in the final section.

The Supreme Court of India has adopted the sustainable development principles

Sustainable development is not a new notion; many societies throughout history have recognized the importance of achieving a balance between the environment, society, and economics. The articulation of this concept of global industrial and information society in the twenty-first century is novel. Sustainable development means many things to different individuals, but according to the Brundtland Report.

“Sustainable Development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainable development focuses on raising the living standards of all people on the planet without risking the environment’s ability to supply them indefinitely; it necessitates an understanding that actions have consequences, and we must find innovative ways to change institutional structures and individual behavior, in other words, it’s about taking action, changing policy, and practice at all levels.

The Supreme Court of India has stated that the United Nations Conference on Human Environment raised environmental consciousness. The idea of “sustainable development” was also established for the first time at the Stockholm Conference in 1972, and it is now recognized as a part of Customary International Law

The Supreme Court of India recognizes the following principles of sustainable development, which can be defined as a programme or strategy for sustained economic and social progress without compromising the environment and natural resources on which continued activity and development are dependent.

  1. Inter-general equity consists of: – “Right development must be accomplished so that equality meets developmental and environmental demands to current generations,” says Principle 3 of the Rio de Janeiro Declaration. In the case of Bombay Dyeing & Mfg. Co. Ltd. vs. Bombay Environmental Action Group, the Supreme Court of India supported this approach. The principle’s major goal is to ensure that the current generation does not misuse nonrenewable resources in order to deprive future generations of their benefits.
  2. The Precautionary Principle is as follows: – “In order to conserve the environment, the precautionary approach shall be extensively adopted by States according to their capacities,” says Principle 15 of the Rio de Janeiro Declaration. “Lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as an excuse to postpone cost-effective steps to avoid environmental degradation where there is a threat of catastrophic or permanent damage.” The Indian Supreme Court embraced this approach in a modified version, explaining that it has resulted in the principle of burden of proof in environmental matters, where those seeking to change the status quo bear the burden of proof as to the absence of detrimental effects of the proposed acts.
  3. Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration: states that “national authorities should endeavor to promote the internationalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution, with due regard for the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.” It is obvious from the preceding note that the goal of the above concept is to hold polluters responsible not just for compensating victims, but also for the costs of rehabilitating the ecosystem.

The Indian judiciary’s crucial role in interpreting laws to suit the sustainable development doctrine

The Indian Supreme Court and High Courts have played a significant role in upholding the Sustainable Development Doctrine. Various laws have been enacted in India to avoid environmental deterioration. In this case, the higher court has played a critical role in interpreting those statutes in accordance with the Sustainable Development Doctrine.

The Indian judiciary has played a vital role in promoting sustainable development and fostering public and private industry while minimising the risk of irreversible damage to the natural environment, which is necessary to maintain the planet’s and India’s healthy flora and fauna. It should be mentioned that all lawsuits involving environmental issues have been brought before the court through Public Interest Litigation (PIL) under Article 32 or Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.

The Supreme Court of India has made a tremendous contribution to environmental and ecological protection, as well as the protection of forest wildlife, among other things. Despite the court’s limited jurisdiction, it has played an important role in this regard. True, we have enough environmental regulations, but their execution is in the hands of administrative authorities, and in this regard, excellent governance devoid of corruption is the most important requirement for environmental protection.

Court verdicts pertaining to the environmental protection

This should be noted that the Indian judiciary has taken a leading role in environmental protection and sustainable development in India. The judiciary’s commitment to social good in general, and environmental protection in particular, has resulted in the innovative use of “public interest litigation” under Articles 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution as a tool for social and environmental justice.

The right to a healthy environment has been incorporated directly and indirectly into Indian top court judgments, with the first link between environmental quality and the right to life being established in the case of Charan Lal Sahu Etc. vs. Union of India and Others, also known as the Bhopal Case.

In Subhash Kumar vs. the State of Bihar, the Supreme Court of India construed Article 21 of the Indian Constitution to hold that the right to life includes the right to a healthy environment, which includes the right to pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life. The Supreme Court has recognized the right to a healthy environment as a basic right in this judgment.

The Supreme Court introduced the new concept of “absolute liability” for disasters arising from the storage or use of hazardous materials from their factories in M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India & others, also known as the Oleum Gas Leak case. The enterprise must ensure that no harm has been caused whether negligence occurred or not.

The Supreme Court of India held in Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum vs. Union of India while businesses are important for a country’s development, the doctrine of sustainable development must be adopted by them as a balancing concept, and the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays principle’ must also be accepted as part of the law.

The Supreme Court stated in M. C. Mehta vs. Kamal Nath that “any disruption of the basic environment elements, namely air, water, and soul, which are necessary for existence, would be hazardous to life.” As a result, a court exercising jurisdiction under Article 32 can award not only damages but also fines for environmental degradation.

The Gujarat High Court stated in Abhilash Textiles vs. Rajkot Municipal Corpn. that “the petitioners cannot be allowed to harvest profit at the expense of the public health.”


The environment and development are two sides of the same coin, and none can be sacrificed for the sake of the other. Both, on the other hand, are equally important for our better future. In this situation, it is up to the Supreme Court and the High Courts to handle these matters with extreme caution; only then will we be able to fulfill our goal of ensuring a pollution-free developed country for our next generation.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the location of the industry. In this regard, it is recommended that, when an industry is hazardous, it is not to be in a location where many people live or near a colony, considering the happiness and health of the inhabitant. It pertains to the provisions of Directives Principles of State Policy Articles 48A and 51A (g).

We always kept in mind Resource management, which is another major issue that focuses on the idea of “sustainable development,” which emphasizes that the right to development should not have an adverse impact on the potentiality of natural resources.

Public Interest Litigation (PIL) under Articles 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution has also played an essential part in protecting the environment, as most of the Supreme Court’s environmental cases are the outcome of this Public Interest Litigation.

The World Commission on Environment and Development observes, “What is required is a new approach in which all nations aim at a type of development that integrates production with resource conservation and enhancement, and that links both to the provision for all of an adequate livelihood base and equitable access to resources.”

These industries or businesses/trades are sometimes found to be carried on in a way that endangers vegetation cover, animals, aquatic life, and human health, but we now know that any trade or business that is harmful to flora and fauna or human beings cannot be carried on in the name of the fundamental right. In this light, we can only hope that the judiciary would play an essential role in protecting the environment and assisting India’s industrial development by adopting a sustainable development policy.

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