We humans have infinite wants and an unlimited need for energy to support economic growth and satisfy our wants, whereas the resources needed to fulfill our wants and produce energy are finite or limited. To keep up with the growing need for energy produce enough energy, natural resources are being used up rapidly. As a result, natural resources are getting depleted at an alarming rate which is affecting the stability of the natural system and also compromising the availability of these resources for the future generations.

The word “sustainability” can be defined as the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level and therefore “ sustainable development “ refers to the method of development where the use of natural resources for production is kept under check to avoid complications in the future.

The United Nations General Assembly officially validated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015. It states a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are to be achieved by the year 2030.  All the seventeen goals are said to be somehow interrelated. These goals are specifically designed to cover both – social and economic development concerns, namely, climate change, education, gender equality, sanitation, water , energy , poverty , health , hunger , environmental and social justice .

These SDGs apply to all countries worldwide as the anatomy does not differentiate between developed and developing countries unlike the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) which ended in 2015.


Precautionary Principle:

A lot of activities having negative impacts on human health and the environment are being carried out on a day-to-day basis. Due to scientific uncertainty, necessary steps to terminate these activities or avoid the damage could not be taken earlier. It was only after the introduction of “Precautionary Principles” that the terminating and avoiding irreversible damage to the environment and human health became possible. The Precautionary Principle focuses on preventing harm rather than managing the damage caused.

The Precautionary Principle can be considered as a tool for making better and appropriate decisions regarding human health and the environment. This principle aims to prevent damage from happening by opposing or taking a stand against it from beforehand, even if there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove that the activity in question is infact going to do irreversible damage in the upcoming future. It also plays a significant role in verifying whether developmental process is sustainable or not.

There are five basic features of this principle specifically the Anticipatory Action, Right to Know, Alternatives Assessment, Full Cost Accounting and Participatory Decision Process.

There are a number of environmental laws in India like the Water (Prevention and Control) Act, 1974, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 , and the Air ( Prevention and Control of Pollution ) Act ,1981. What differentiates these environmental laws and this principle is the fact that these laws focus on managing the damage whereas the principle focusing on preventing or avoiding the damage altogether. Even though the Precautionary Principle has not been mentioned specifically in any environmental laws in India, it has been cited by the Supreme Court while passing judgments.


Polluter Pays Principle:

Introduced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) IN 1972. The Polluter Pays Principle holds the polluters responsible for any kind of damage providing it falls under environmental damage and pollution. Keeping in mind the aim of sustainable development, the Rio Declaration Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration incorporated the Polluter Pays Principle proclaiming that the polluter should bear the cost of the pollution to compensate for the damage caused and restore the environment to its original state.

Polluter Pays Principle is a part of the Indian Environmental Law regime and has been used time and again by the Indian Judiciary. In the past, it has been used to pass judgments on cases like the Oleum Gas Leak case(M.C. Mehta v. Union of India ) and the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India, just to name a few.


The Public Trust Doctrine:

A legal theory developed way back in the ancient Roman Empire, the Public Trust Doctrine has been extended in recent years. This doctrine focuses on not making natural resources like air, water (kinds of water bodies) and forests subject to private ownership. Instead these resources should be safeguarded by that government so that everyone can use it freely as these resources are infact a gift of nature and are of great importance to each and everyone.

This kind of doctrine enables the government to protect and effectively manage the natural resources as well as permit the general public to question ineffective management of the same.

The Public Trust Doctrine has been linked to bio-diversity protection, the precautionary principle and sustainable development even though it has faced criticism on numerous occasions. This doctrine requires agencies to put forth proof that shows whether the actions (which the agency is already doing or planning on doing) are environmentally benign (or anything close to benign ) or not and whether it will damage the natural resources . If the agency in question fails to do so then they might be subject to a Public Trust lawsuit against them.

It (Public Trust Doctrine) has always been considered as a well established foreign law concept by the Indian Judiciary System (whenever they applied it ) . Till date, this doctrine has been used for three cases, the first one dating back to 1997. The three cases include M.C Mehta v. Kamal Nath, Th. MajraSingh v. Indian Oil Corporation and M.I Builders v. RadheyShyamSahu.

From the cases and information above, it is evident that the government is not the owner of the natural resources of their country but a body which is expected to manage and protect resources and make it available to everyone in the economy.


Eco Development:

An ecologically, socially and economically sustainable approach towards development is known as Eco Development.

People do not understand that both – economic development and environmental development are co-dependent. An environmentally developed place would have more and better quality raw materials to be used for production of various kinds of good for the purpose of sail in the market and an economically developed place would have the financial support to maintain the environment. In other words, good environment means good business and vice versa.

Here, it refers to development at a regional and local level. A lot of attention is given specifically to a reasonable use of natural resources with a sense of the natural ecosystems and local, social and cultural patterns.

All the eco development activities are monitored and sanctioned by the Eco Development Committee(s), effectively since 1992. It also helps in creating alternate job opportunities for the locals, which takes care of the social aspect of the concept of eco development.


Sustainable Development and the Indian Judiciary:

Industrialization is considered to be important for a country in order to develop, but at the same time it is one of the major causes of environmental degradation. Almost all the countries in South-East Asia are developing countries. This means that in order to become a developed country, they have to set up more industries which makes it very tough for these countries to protect and care about the environment. Experts from all over the world came up with a doctrine known as “Sustainable Development “to make things a tad bit easier for the countries still in the developing stages and maintain a balance between a healthy environment and economic development.

The concept was first introduced in 1972 in the Stockholm Declaration and later, was mentioned in the Brundtland report. It was further discussed in an UN conference on environment and development in 19992 at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Some of the basic principles of this doctrine include:

a) Inter-Generational Equity

b) The Precautionary Principle

c) The Polluter Pays Principle

The Indian Judiciary has played a significant role in conserving this doctrine. The Parliament has also validated a number of laws to suit the doctrine to deal with various environmental concerns.

Both, environmental development and economic development are important for a country. If a country does not have a stable and healthy environment, economic development cannot be achieved and if it is not economically developed, taking care of the environment would prove to be very difficult. Therefore, it is up to the government and the judiciary system to make the right decision.



  1. Wikipedia
  2. Legal Service India
  3. Unesco
  4. Google Images
  5. Image Source: The European Anti-Poverty Network