Consentia on Multidisciplinary Research

Environmental problems as a source of social and political conflict

The environmental degradation and its impact on people especially those affected has already been a matter for discussion everywhere.  It is, therefore, not surprising that all most all the developmental / industrial ventures, be in the public or in private sectors, are met with stiff resistance. As for example the  controversies over Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada , the Kankan Railways, the East-Coast Road , Mullaperiyar dam issue, The Tehri Dam and more recently over TATA’s proposed steel venture in Gopalpur, Orissa intensive shrimp farming along the entire coast , Enron project in Maharashtra etc. are but expressions of concern against possible deleterious impact on ecology and against dislocation . The protests also emphasize that all development projects must incorporate environmental and social concerns in the process of planning, design and implementation.

It is a fact that community objections to development or policies that affect ecology or bio-diversity are essentially expressions of concern for livelihood . The process , nevertheless , helps preservation of precious natural resources . The problems of displacement, rehabilitation and resettlement is another major concern here.

The regulatory agencies of the Government are ill equipped to fight against  pollution and other environmental problems . They are not involved in making industrial policy and they are both numerically and technically unable to enforce the laws against such environmental degradation.

Sustainable development and Environment

Any development, whether economic, social or political must not harm or affect the environmental interests. While development is necessary it should not be at the cost of environmental degradation. Therefore the object of sustainable development is the integration of developmental activities and environmental protection. That means economic sustainability and ecological sustainability should go hand in hand[1].          As mentioned in Brundtland Report[2] sustainable development is development that meets the needs of present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. Thus the social and economic development in terms of sustainable development means, a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological and institutional changes are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.

International Measures


The term sustainable development was first used in

  1. Cocoyoc Declaration[3] and then in
  2. The Stockholm Declaration[4] , where the concept was given much importance.
  3. World Conservation Strategy of 1980.
  4. South Pacific Commission 1980[5]
  5. World Charter for Nation 1982
  6. ASEAN Agreement 1985
  7. World Commission of Environment and Development 1987
  8. Brundtland Commission Report 1987
  9. Rio Declaration 1992[6]
  10. Earth Summit Plus Five 1997
  11.  Kyoto conference (World Climate Conference)[7]
  12.  Global Environmental Facility 1998 etc.

 Thus in International level so many conventions, Declarations and strategies were adopted to protect the environment through sustainable development. A development process that needs to be in harmony with the environment ultimately demands a new culture. Precautionary principles and polluter pays principles are the contribution of these measures which is very beneficial to the environment.

Indian Judiciary and environment

Environmental deterioration could endanger life of present and future generations. Therefore, the right to life has been used in a diversified manner in India. It includes, the right to survive as a species, quality of life, the right to live with dignity and the right to livelihood. In India, this has been expressly recognized as a constitutional right. The only silver lining in the entire gamut of environmental legislation and enforcement has been the initiative and pivotal role taken up by the Courts in India especially the Supreme Court of India in laying down foundation of environmental jurisprudence.

In a series of cases brought through public interest litigations the Courts have taken upon themselves the task of expanding the article 21 of the Indian Constitution by interpreting that right to Life includes Right to live in a healthy environment . The judgement of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Damodar Rao Vs. S.O. Municipal Corporation, Hydarabad , the Court ruled that the enjoyment of life and its attainments and fulfillment guaranteed by the Article 21 of the Constitution embraces the protection and preservation of natures gifts without which life cannot be enjoyed . The slow poisoning caused by environmental pollution should also be regarded as violation of Article 21 . Expanding on the idea further , The Supreme Court of India in a case in respect of quarries in Dehradun observed that preservation of the environment and keeping the ecological balance unaffected is a task which not only Governments but also every citizen must undertake . It is also the social obligation and every citizen is reminded that it is his fundamental duty as enshrined in Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution .

            In M.C. Meheta Vs. Union of India involving gas leak in Delhi the Supreme Court not only widened the scope of Article 21 by including in it the protection of environment but also created a liability in tort for those harmed by pollution . It laid down the principle that industry carrying hazardous and inherently dangerous activities that are a threat to security of those living around it owed a strict and absolute liability and non-delegable duty to the community to ensure that no accident will occur. If accident do occur, the enterprise has an absolute liability to compensate those affected by it . The social cost for carrying on such hazardous activities for profit is a legal presumption that the industry will compensate  for any such accident which will constitute absolute liability.

So the presumption is that, judicial mechanism is very strong in India in Environmental matters while legislative and executive machineries are not that much capable in handling the real environmental   problems.


Though the judicial process is fast emerging as an important forum to seek remedial justice in India against environmentally hazardous activity there is need to evolve an enlightened public opinion . Initiative of a handful of public spirited concerned individuals and groups and a watchful judiciary might have shaken the Government from apathy in implementing the laws while its own agencies slept . But the fact remains that legal and bureaucratic means can not bring permanent solutions to human problems. Community incentives in dealing with environmental problems not only represent the best of democratic traditions in India but also suggest the direction that Government policy ought to decide how best to use and conserve the natural resources . In this context the right to access to environmental information will come under the category of a fundamental human rights[8].

In the ultimate analysis , unless there is partnership with the public , none of the objectives of development will be fulfilled . A Government will be environment conscious to the same degree as its people . It is peoples’ audit or concerns that alone will ensure the country’s environmental survival. The greater the partnership between the people and the government , the greater will be the chances to sustainable development. China established Great Green Wall Project (trees were planted in 9 million acres) to save the country from environmental problems with the help, cooperation and contribution of local people. This can be treated as the most important public interference in environmental protection. African countries also engaged in similar activities to save their country from desertification.


  1. Environmental Impact assessment notification, 1994.
  2. Changing Dimensions of Indian Environmental Law
    P. Leelakrishnan (ed.), Lucknow: Eastern Book Co., 1992)
  3. Kohli, K, Menon,M,2005. Eleven years of the environmental impact assessment notification,

1994,How effective has in been ?, kalpavrikswa environmental action group.

  1. Dubey,S,Newnes,D,2003. Green democracy peoples participation in environmental decision

making, environmental justice initiative.

  1. Clark , B.D,Gilard,A, Bisset, R. and Tomlinson, R. 1984. perspectives on environmental impact

assessment. Reidel publishing company, Holland.

  1. The Hindu Survey of the environment,2005,pg 91-97
  2. Anjaneyulu,Y. Environment impact assessment methodologies, B .S. P.B.S publication, 2002
  3. Deshpande V.A.& Goyal, S.K. Environment impact evaluation in EIA studies: A new approach ,IJEP 18 (11): 824-829
  4. visited on 20/07/2012
  5. Development ,displacement and rehabilitation ; edit- Walter Ferrnades , E.Ganguly                         Thakural   , Idian Social Institute .
  6. M.S.Swaminathan Equitable Development : Focus- Sustainable growth Hindu survey of environment [ H S E ] 1992
  7. Bio-Diversity ; Time For Bold Steps , Madhav Gadgil ; H S E – 1992
  8. Peoples’ Movement ; Evolving A New Philosophy ; Kalpana Sharma , H S E -1992
  9. Environmental Cases ; What The Judiciary Can Do , M.C.Mehta , H S E – 1992
  10. Peoples’ Participation In Social Forestry – A Felt Need In India ; Jiyalal Gupta & J.P.Jadav ; Kurukshetra ; Dec. 1994
  11. India Today Series On Poisioning Of India ; Dec-1996 To June- 1997

[1] Changing Dimensions of Indian Environmental Law

   P. Leelakrishnan (ed.), Lucknow: Eastern Book Co.,( 1992)

[2] Brundtland Commission Report 1987

[3] Cocoyoc Declaration on Environment and Development, 1970

[4] Stockholm Declaration in 1972

[5] The concept was also recognized by the General Assembly of UNO at the same time.

[6] Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992(Earth summit 1992)

[7] Kyoto Conference and Pact on Global Warming 1997

[8] Svitlana Kravchenko, “Is Access to Envoronmental Information a fundamental Human rights?” electronic copy available at : http//ssrn. com/abstract=1657118


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