India

Environment or other rights: Supreme Court differs in 4 days

The Supreme Court, through PILs, has been at the core of the evolution of environmental law in the country. File

The Supreme Court, through PILs, has been at the core of the evolution of environmental law in the country. File | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court has expressed, in the course of four days, divergent views on whether preservation of the environment should take a backseat when other rights are at stake.

On March 25, Justice Indira Banerjee observed in a judgment that industrial units, which provided livelihood to several thousands of workers and contributed to the nation’s economy, should not be shut down for not getting prior environmental clearance. The case concerned a unit in Haryana that employed 8,000 workers but had not got prior environmental clearance for operations.

Justice Banerjee said the lack of prior environmental clearance was only a "procedural lapse". "The court cannot be oblivious to the economy or the need to protect the livelihood of hundreds of employees and others employed in the project and others dependent on the project, if such projects comply with environmental norms," he reasoned.

Resurgence of forest cover

However, on Tuesday, a Bench led by Justice Khanwilkar tipped the scale in favour of the environment. Justice Khanwilkar orally said the environment “must prevail” over other rights. It was the court’s constant vigil that had seen a resurgence of the forest cover. Forests must be preserved. “Forest has to be preserved… It is only because of the strict interpretation and exposition by this court that the forest cover is increasing,” he stated.

The Supreme Court, through public interest litigation pleas, has been at the core of the evolution of environmental law in the country. Its judgments have interlinked the survival of humanity to the survival of the environment by holding that the “right to life includes the right to wholesome environment”. It has nudged awareness in the public, legislature and the executive by underscoring that clean air and water were indeed attributes of a dignified life.

The court has adapted principles of international law into its verdicts. These include principles like inter-generational equity by which the State is under an obligation to conserve the environment for future generations.

Again, the polluter pays principle, by which the polluter has to pay not only the victims of pollution but is also liable to repair the damage to the environment.

The court had brought in the public trust doctrine to hold that the State was only a trustee holding the wealth safe for its ultimate beneficiary, the public. The principle of sustainable development remains a vital check on unbridled expansion.


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Printable version | Jul 16, 2022 3:55:21 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/environment-or-other-rights-supreme-court-differs-in-4-days/article65271269.ece