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Sustainable Development as a principle of Environmental Safeguard


In a world where all the countries are running towards development, a lot of industries are being established and excessive utilization of natural resources is taking place. Today, nature’s resources are facing extinction and the whole world is planning to save the resources for the coming generations and future use. In this process, there are chances that the development of the countries may decelerate. For the development and protection of natural resources to go hand in hand, sustainable development has been introduced. The most popular definition of sustainable development is described as development that satisfies current demands without jeopardizing the capacity of future generations to satisfy their own needs. There are two major ideas in it:

  • the idea of needs, especially the basic requirements of the world impoverished, to which top emphasis should be given; and
  • the notion that the environment’s capacity to fulfil existing and future demands is constrained by the level of technology and social structure.

The Brundtland Report, also known as Our Common Future, was issued in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development and is where the phrase first appeared. Sustainability recognizes a comprehensive viewpoint that links a community’s economy, ecology, and society. This admits that an economy exists within a society and that society exists within the ecosystem of the world. The angle highlights how closely connected we are to nature.


  1.  Inter-Generational Equity: The principle talks about the right of every generation to get benefits from natural resources. Principle 3 of the Rio declaration states regarding the right to development which meets the needs of the present and the upcoming generations. The main aim behind this principle is to make sure that the present generation should not excessively use non-renewable resources which would deprive the benefit of the next generation.
  • The Principle of Precaution: This is often regarded as the most fundamental concept of ‘Sustainable Development.’ Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration is about the protection of the environment. The states are expected to use their capabilities through the precautionary method to protect the nation. Cost-effective methods must be used to develop the states and protect the environment from serious threats and irreversible harms.
  •  Principle of Polluter Pays: The Rio Declaration in the principle 16 states that the national authorities try to vitalize internalization of the costs of the environment and the economic mechanisms must be used with proper care in the interest of the public without disturbing the international


India has switched to sustainable development as it has been considered that nature’s protection plays a crucial part in the development of the nation. With the alarming decrease in the number of non-renewable resources that paves a path to the development of the country, India decided to use renewable natural resources and stop the excessive usage or destruction of the resources and protect nature. When United Nations considered sustainable development to be a healthy method, many countries along with India adopted it. The constitution earlier hasn’t declared any provisions to protect the environment but later Article 211 of the Constitution interpreted that the Right to life also implied “the right to live in a healthy environment” explicitly. Various laws implemented by the Indian legal system to protect nature and pave the way for sustainable development are:

  • The National Green Tribunal Act 2010;
  • The Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
  • The Environment Protection Act, 1986, etc.


Being a developing nation, India had rapid industrialization and economic growth in recent years. However, it harmed the environment in the country. The Supreme Court of India had a vital role in defining the term Sustainable development. This battle for environmental protection was headed by Justice Kuldip Singh also known as the Green Judge. Most Environment-related cases are approached in front of the Higher courts of India through PILs (Public Interest Litigation) under Article 32 or 226.

Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum vs. Union of India2 was the first case in which the Supreme Court used the idea of “Sustainable Development.” In this instance, a disagreement emerged over certain tanneries in Tamil Nadu. These tanneries were releasing effluents into the Palar River, which served as the state’s primary supply of drinking water. The Supreme Court stated that the court had no problem in declaring the principles, of precautionary and polluter pays as a part of the Indian Environmental law. Restructuring or reviving the harmed environment is the process of Sustainable Development. The polluter is liable and must pay the costs for the victims who’ve been affected and also have to pay for the environmental destruction.

This case has been a landmark judgement which has been given by the Supreme Court. The Idea of Sustainable Development has been made clear by it. This has benefitted a lot to the society. It has been made clear that the polluter has the liability to pay for the damage that he has caused to the environment since the pollution of the environment is considered to have disturbed the aim of sustainable development by polluting its surroundings. Following that, the Apex Court clarified and applied the idea of Sustainable Development in several rulings. In Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India3, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India said “Sustainable Development indicates what sort or degree of development may take place, which can be supported by nature with or without mitigation.”

The Supreme Court used the precautionary principle in M.C Mehta v. Union of India4. In this case, the precautionary principle was applied. A PIL was filed stating that the use of coal/coke has caused a lot of environmental havoc and also regarding the increasing pollution around Taj Mahal, i.e., Acid rains have increased a lot and caused a change in colour of the monument’s marble. It can be inferred from the Supreme Court’s judgement that due to the rapid industrialisation in that area, there have been acidic emissions present in the atmosphere. The issue was taken seriously as this would impact both biotic and abiotic ecosystems. It was also stated by the court that any industry which can’t use natural gas instead of coal or coke can relocate to any other industrial area away from the Taj Trapezium Zone.


India has actively taken part in the UN 2030 Agenda which focuses on the improvement of the environment and tackling climate change through the sustainable development method as it is the most viable method to better the environment without interrupting or stopping the process of development rather, bringing in the healthy way of development. The UN 2030 Agenda has established around 1200 environmental courts and tribunals to promote sustainable development through the judiciary for a better society. The National Green Tribunal was established by the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. This statute controls the handling of civil lawsuits involving nature preservation and environmental protection. Legal rights relating to the environment are mentioned.

It has been said in the case of Sterlite Industries (India) Pvt. Ltd. vs. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board & Ors5 by the NGT while ruling in favour of the firm. It was stated by the court that the regulations regarding the environment need to be enforced strictly however, no action shall be taken just on mere suspicion. The precautionary principle must be applied when reliable scientific evidence reveals that there is a likely signal of some environmental harm or health danger without implementing suitable preventative actions.


In the year 2015, the Members of the UN along with India adopted the Sustainable development goals which consist of 17 objectives and 169 targets to fulfil for the eradication of poverty and pollution. Economic growth, Environmental safeguards and Inclusion in society are the objectives of sustainable development goals. The sustainable development goals are inclusive of many factors that affect society in a better manner than the millennial development goals. In T. DamodharRao v. S.O. Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad6, “the court stated that, according to Articles 48-A and 51A(g), it is clear that environmental protection is not only the responsibility of every citizen but also of the State and all other state organs, including courts.”


India is said to have fallen 3 spots in 2022 and is currently in 120th position as per the Centre of Science and Environment’s State of India’s Environment Report, 2022. India has attained a score of 66 out of 100. One of the main reasons for the demotion of rank is the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, the poor in India have become poorer. However, the Sustainable development goals have improved a lot in society. Along with an aim to eradicate poverty which has happened to be effective, according to the survey of the Times of India, it has been observed that the forest area in India has increased and ranks 3rd globally in an average annual net gain in forest area between 2010 to 2020. It has also been observed from the survey that there has been a rapid increase in economic growth along with conservation, ecological security & environmental sustainability. The state governments also play a major role in sustainable development. India also has the SDG India Index to monitor sustainable development within the premises of India.


As important as the improvement of the industries and development of the nations, it is more important to conserve nature and its resources, especially those which are non-renewable. There is a saying by Mahatma Gandhi, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” The only way that all the countries can develop is by protecting the environment through Sustainable development. India being a developing nation, has a huge necessity for development while approaching the required goals through sustainable development methods. However, through the incentives taken by the Indian Government, the process of development and conservation of nature is going hand in hand, in a peaceful manner.

There are many laws introduced in India. However, through the supervision of the situations, there are amendments made to the laws. The Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2021, which aim to phase out single-use plastic by 2022, were announced in August 2021. The extended producer responsibility for plastic packaging regulation draft has been made public. On July 1st 2022, the Indian government banned single-use plastic to reduce pollution. This is a huge step toward the reduction of land and water pollution. India also plans to meet its goal of the UN Agenda to reduce emissions in India by 2030. The method of Sustainable development paves the path for future generations to utilize the resources to develop their society in the coming time


1 The Constitution of India 1950, art. 21.

2 Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum vs. Union of India, 1996 5 SCR 241.

3 Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India, 10 SCC 664.

4 M.C Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1988 SC 1037.

5 Sterlite Industries (India) Pvt. Ltd. vs. Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and others, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 221.

6 T. DamodharRao v. S.O. Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad, AIR 1987 AP 171.

This article is written by K. Mihira Chakravarthy, currently enrolled in 1st year, B.A. L.L.B. at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University (DSNLU).

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