Sustainable development: Precautionary and Polluter Pays Principle

The condition of the environment is degrading day by day. In India, the condition worsens daily. The curbing of these issues is a necessity for society. In addition to this, sustainable development needs to be made the ultimate goal. The upcoming generation has the right to enjoy the environment as much as we do. To ensure this possibility, there are laws for every aspect of the environment. For example, the protection laws for water and air. These laws have been in force for many years, however, the goal has still not been reached. The adaptation of principles along with the legislation became necessary for saving the environment. The principles that were in action in other countries were adapted in India for the welfare of the country. Moreover, the specification of penalties also became easier and with it and many more positive changes were noticed as well.

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development generally means using resources in a way that they are available for future generations as well. This means, extinct resources must be used more carefully. For the objective to be achieved, the support of every individual is vital and to do so, many principles have been formulated which are to be followed by the people.

Principles concerning environmental law are now in force in India. Many legislations state the rights and wrongs of an individual about the environment. The judgements also play a vital role in this. With this, future judgements take consideration from them. Similarly, many steps are being taken to attain sustainable development in the country.

Polluter pays principle (PPP)

The Polluter Pays Principle states, an individual who causes damage to the environment is responsible for compensating for the same. It becomes their duty to bring back the environment to its normal condition in which it was before the damage. The intention of the person does not matter in such cases and the polluter has to be held responsible for the acts they perpetrated.

For example, if a chemical leaks out of a factory and goes into a water body which causes harm to what lives there, the factory owner will be held responsible for cleaning that water body and will also have to pay compensation for the same. The government will not be responsible for doing so. This creates a liability on the person causing pollution.

In India, the principle was introduced in the case of Indian Council for Enviro Legal action. Union of India (1996 3 SCC 212). In this case, the Court held that the person causing property damage is also liable for doing good to it, irrespective of the intentions of the doer. The liability is on the individual, with the nature of the activity also playing a vital role.

  • As absolute liability -In the case of Vellore Citizens’ welfare Forum v Union of India, 1996 (5) SCC 647, the meaning of the principle was interpreted as an absolute liability. This means that the polluter not only pays the damages, but also has to restore the damaged ecology. This means that the compensation extends to the environment directly. Apart from this, there are many cases filed by M.C. Mehta concerning the safety of the environment. In his case, many important aspects originate about the environment and the absolute liability. His cases included the Oleum Leakage case and the Safety of the Ganga river case. Such decisions started the duty of the government and the polluter separately.

  • Loopholes- There are many loopholes in regards to the meaning of some words. Here, the word “polluter” needs to be elaborated in a better way to have a justified look on the situation. Furthermore, every section of society can't pay for unintentional damages they caused. Therefore, this principle cannot be imposed on people forcefully. Moreover, many times the polluter will refuse to accept his mistake, due to which the damaged property will be left unorganised.

Precautionary Principle

This principle is important to save the environment from human destruction. The well known phrase “prevention is better than cure” applies in the following principle. This means, due care must be taken to avoid irreversible damage to the environment. Risk factors must be taken into consideration to prevent the future harm or degradation of the environment because harm done once cannot be cured at a fast pace.

Furthermore, in the Taj Trapezium case, M.C. Mehta v. Union of India AIR 1997 SC 734, a petition was filed concerning degradation of the marble quality of the Taj Mahal. In this case, the precautionary principle was applied by the Supreme Court that proper care must be taken by the industries. The industry needs to take care of its actions and not do things that degrade the environment in any way. In this way, precautionary principle is applicable in India.


It is very difficult for the government to look at every activity and compensate for all of them. It was for this reason that the Polluter Pays Principle was adapted. The principle divides the burden between the wrongdoer and the government. The absolute liability on that person is also of vital importance. Through this, the government is free from doing duties for which it was not responsible. Lastly, it will stop polluters from taking steps against the environment.

The precautionary principle is also very important as it can save the environment from unnecessary damages. The prevention method creates awareness and will prevent people from taking drastic steps. For this, due care needs to be taken every step of the way to prevent our environment from degrading. It can therefore be understood that both principles go hand in hand, making them crucial in attaining sustainable development.

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