Precautionary Principle: An overview


INTRODUCTION- The precautionary principle states that if there exists a risk of a damage which may be caused to humans or the environment, then the absence of a conclusive or a definite scientific proof would not be a reason valid enough for inaction. This is based on better safe than sorry approach. When an uncertainty exists which can cause devastating impacts due to an activity which is not environmental friendly, then the precautionary principle is used in order to anticipate the harm the activity can cost to the environment. The precautionary principle is one of the most popular legal concepts when it comes to the international environmental law, it has been incorporated in many of the international agreements by Article 3 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The precautionary principle basically means that one should not wait for a mishap to happen, rather we should prepare in advance for any mishap that might happen as a result of any activity which may harm the current state of the environment. Hence, if a mishap does happen we would be prepared for it, and it would not come as a surprise to us. This principle has been accepted in India and is used as a fundamental tool in order to promote sustainable development; it has been employed within Indian environmental governance in order to promote better health as well as better environmental decisions. It provides an action plan to avoid risks which can be serious or can cause an irreversible harm to the environment or the human beings, it is a notion which supports taking protective actions even before there is a complete and scientific proof of a risk emerging, the actions should not be delayed simply because full scientific information is lacking. The principle involves anticipating the environmental harm which may be caused and then taking measures to avoid it. The principle shift the burden of proof on the polluter, and it is the responsibility of the polluter to prove that the industrial activity which is being caused does not amount to a health hazard. ORIGIN- The precautionary principle dates back to the 1970s, the term precautionary principle had its origin from the German word ‘Vorsorgeprinzip’. The first drafted bill emerged in 1970 in Germany with the aim of securing clean air for humans. It was passed in 1974 and covered the sources which lead to air pollution, noise pollution etc. The principle was formally acknowledged in 1985 Vienna Convention for the protection of ozone layer. In the year 1987 during the Montreal protocol on substances which lead to the depletion of the ozone layer, the parties agreed to take precautionary measures in order to control the emission of the substances which lead to ozone depletion. Agenda 21 also refers to the precautionary principle in relation to the marine environmental protection; it states that a precautionary and anticipatory approach would be necessary in order to prevent the degradation of the marine environment.

NEED OF THE PRINCIPLE- The environment is a natural surrounding and conditions in which we reside, in the current scenario with the evolution of time, the environment has now come under danger. And one of the major reasons which has led to the degradation of the environment is human activities which have been abusing the environment in order to satisfy their own needs. The environment is considered as an integral part of human life as it the basis of survival of mankind, however in the past few years it has been abused and various repercussions have been observed in the quality of the environment . The natural resources have been degraded, and horrifying results have been seen due to this abuse of environment done by human beings, the melting of the polar icecaps, ozone layer depletion, forest fires, floods, thunder storms etc. The effect of the careless and harmful activities done by human beings has caused drastic effects and ruined the environment, the earth and the nature have a limited capacity to absorb and overcome this harm which has already been done. Precautionary principle is needed to protect the environment so that no drastic loss to the biodiversity or the environment takes place, It is needed so that we do not commit any further mistake, any action even if there is a miniscule risk of damage, even in the absence of any calculated scientific proof must be taken care of, and we should be prepared for and damage in advance.

JUDICIAL PRONOUNCEMENTS- The precautionary principle evolved in India in the case of Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India , where the Supreme Court referred the Brundtland Report as well as several other international documents, apart from article 21, 48A and 51 A (g) Of the Indian Constitution. In this case appeal was filed against the pollution which was caused by the discharge of untreated effluents from the tanneries. In this case it was held by the Supreme Court that even though leather industry is important for the country, it has no right to destroy the environment and the balance must be maintained between the environment as well as the economy, it was also stated that the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle are a vital part of the environmental Law of the country. Hence the court delivered its judgment in favour of the petitioners and it was advised that a harmony must be maintained between the environment as well as the development which takes place, the environment cannot be compromised because of the development as it is an integral part and the basis of survival of human beings. In Calcutta Tanneries Case the precautionary principle was applied by the court and it was ordered to relocate the tanneries from their present location and shift to the new leather complex. In the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India , the precautionary principle was considered by the majority of judges and the court was of the view that the doctrine should be employed only in the cases of pollution when a huge impact is caused which is uncertain and nonnegligible in nature. In the case of S. Jagannath vs. Union of India , the Supreme Court held said that the sea beaches and the seacoasts are viewed as the gifts of nature and any activity which pollutes such gifts cannot be permitted. Hence, the prawn farming culture industry which was causing the degradation of mangrove ecosystem and led to the depletion of plantation by the discharge of highly polluting effluents was stopped.

CONCLUSION- The precautionary principle is an essential method which is used for the risk assessment and the impact it can cause to the environment. Basically, the objective of the principle is to recognize the decisions which may have an impact on the environment and access and recognize the conditions of uncertainty in accordance to the possible environmental consequences of the decisions taken. It focuses on taking preventive actions before time in order to avoid the effects which can damage the environment. It supports taking preventive measures and protective actions even if there is not a complete scientific proof of a risk, still the actions should not be avoided simply because of the fact that fully fledged scientific information is lacking. This principle is one of the most important elements of environmental law and is highly praised as it is believed to be favourable in the conservation of the existing natural environment and biodiversity, and would lead to the conservation and revival of the environmental conditions.

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