Sustainable Development is defined as “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of Future Generation to meet their own needs”. The concept came into the picture after the International Conference in Stockholm in 1972. It contains three aspects- 1.environment which includes biodiversity, air, land, plants, animals, etc.,2. Economy i.e. income and money employment trade, business, etc., 3.Society, includes education, health, security, peace, and equal opportunities.  To meet this concept this compelled the legislature to make rules, guidelines, and legal provisions on the same. Further, these provisions brought the judiciary to set precedents against such degradation of the environment. The Supreme Court in various landmark cases highlighted the importance of controlling public actions to protect the environment through legal processes, statutes, and punishments. This article explores the legal regime of environment protection through Indian Jurisprudence.

Environment Preservation vis-a-vis  Development

For a Developing country like India, Economic development clashes several times with environmental preservation. Moreover to achieve sustainable development courts follow only the principle to clean the existing pollution and not focus on precautionary principle to preserve the environment by further laying down rules and regulations which may prevent pollution, which can be construed by courts various decisions which focus on the polluter pays principle rather than precautionary principle. 

To support the above contention the landmark case of Narmada Bachao Andolan is apt. In this case, the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam was to be increased which would have affected the local people, their livelihood would have been lost, and a further lot of species of plants and animals would have been submerged. The Supreme Court held that local people should be given a better place of livelihood but construction would take place as it was important for the development of that place. This judgment portrays that Environment Development is important keeping Environment concerns in view.

Sustainable Development Precedents  

In India, the Sustainable development concept came into light with the case of the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum. In this case, the tanneries in Tamil Nadu were releasing harmful untreated effluents into water bodies, agricultural fields, and roads as well. The river named Palar there was highly polluted due to these effluents making a scarcity of potable water, and not only this it also polluted over thirty thousand hectares of land engaged in agricultural activities. The Supreme Court held Tanneries owners liable and stated that the principle of polluter pay is an integral part of the Constitution.

Supreme Court of India

Taj Trapezium case, in this case, refineries of Mathura’s use of coal and also because of vehicles emissions which lead to the release of SO2 mixing with water in rainy seasons making it an Acid rain resulting in corrosion of Taj, turning white marble yellowish, was banned. A Bhuleral Committee was also set up which recommended the use of CNG. Oleum Gas Leak Case in which Absolute and Public Liability evolved.  Another case was filed by M.C. Mehta in which several polluting tanneries were ordered to be closed to save water of river Ganga. Court-ordered tanneries to come up with a proper set treatment plant.

Through the case of Murli Deora Smoking was banned in public places.

Other Courts

Landmark cases laying precedent on environment protection and maintaining sustainable development. Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra cases– also known as Dehradun Mussoorie Hills quarrying Case. The court observed that quarrying of limestone results in excessive soil erosion and therefore, there is a need to maintain a balance between Environmental & Ecological Integrity.  AP pollution control board caseIn this case, the precautionary principle was established. Church of God in India case. In this case, noise Pollution was also given recognition.

Provisions on Environment Protection

Constitution of India

Constitutional guidelines on right to wholesome Environment- Evolution of Application, Relevant provisions are given under Articles 14, 19(1)(g), 21, 48 (A), 51(A)(g) of the Indian Constitution.

42nd Amendment – Article 48(A)- states about Protection & improvement of Environment & safeguarding forests and wildlife.

Article 51(A)(g)- Fundamental duty to protect & improve the natural environment…living creatures.

List III- Concurrent List– provides Indian parliament power to legislate on subjects on man-made an increase of pollution and environment degradation.

Other Legislations

Under Article 253 of the Indian constitution- legislation for giving effect to International Law. Through which certain legislations inspired by an International Conference in Stockholm 1972 were implemented, such as Water Act 1974, Air Act 1981, Environment Protection Act, 1986, Forest Act1927, Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, etc.

Provisions under  Code of Civil proceduresection 91- Reservoir for class action suits against environmental Law. J. C. Galstaun case – one of the earliest cases on environmental pollution in India.  The Case is important because it shows how the common law regulatory system can check polluters in a pre-industrialized society.

Indian Penal Code– There are various sections of the Code related to environment nuisance and its punishments, some of them are-

Section 277– fouling Water of public Spring or Reservoir

Section 278– Making atmosphere noxious to health.

Section 284–  Negligent conduct concerning poisonous substances.

And many more.

Provision under Code of Criminal Proceduresection 133– Conditional order for removal of the nuisance.

National Green Tribunal

It is a body specially designed to deal with the cases of Environment protection. India is the 3rd country in the world to make such a body for robust and effective disposal of cases related to the environment. Landmark cases held by NGT are- recently in 2017 in Delhi NGT imposed a ban on plastic bags containing less than fifty microns. In the 2012 Almirtra H. Patel case, NGT prohibited the open burning of wastes on the land surfaces.

However, NGT faces various challenges like the supremacy of the High Court, criticisms on various judgments of NGT which caused repercussions on the environment, the pendency of cases due to lack of judges and financial assistance, which fails the purpose of establishing such a Tribunal.

International Law

Sustainable Development targets cannot be the same for every country as every country is on a different stage of acquiring it. Some have to achieve more whereas some have to achieve less, according to the altogether vision in view to preserve resources of the world at large. Therefore, to meet such vision internationally major summits held are stated below-

  1. Stockholm conference -focused on biodiversity and environment to secure a healthy environment for humans present as well as the future.
  2. United Nations Commission on Environment and development- plays an important role to protect Environment, in its Brundtland Report defined sustainable development to acquire environmental protection, Economic Growth and social equity.
  3. Rio Declaration- introduced principles on biodiversity, climate change and forest management.
  4. United Nations conference on Sustainable Development 2012- adopted eight Sustainable Development goals to be achieved by 2030.

Article 253 of the Indian Constitution states Legislation for giving effect to International Agreements.


Many times, Economic development wins over Environment Degradation. India is a developing country which makes it concerned to become one of the developed countries concerning the economy, technology, Industry, etc., basically, every such thing which degrades the environment resources. Therefore, in various cases, Economic development supersedes Environment preservation. Independence and accountability are also important aspects to acquire Sustainable Development by Judiciary. Implementing legislation, regulatory authority by a specialized body that is NGT may make the dream of Sustainable Development possible which enhances the environmental law regime in the country. 

The article has been written by Aakrati Thakur, pursuing BBA Ll. B 3rd Year in Delhi Metropolitan Education, Noida, GGSIPU.

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