Sustainable development and Indian judiciary

Introduction :

The concept of sustainable development is opposed to the traditional concept that development and ecological conservation can not go together. It is a balancing concept between environment and development and is an integration of economics and ecology in decision-making at all levels. In the last decade, the concept of sustainable development has become an important objective for many governments and other decision-making bodies across the world.

The Indian judiciary has also played a vital role in recognizing the concept of sustainable development as an important principle in maintaining the right balance between the environment and development.

Origin of the concept of sustainable development :

The term sustainable development was used at the time of Cocoyoc’s declaration on environment and development in the early 1970s. The concept received impetus for the first time in the modern developmental era through the Stockholm declaration of 1972. Thereafter the concept was very well explained and defined in the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development; “our common future” in 1987 and the Rio declaration held in 1992 is the hallmark for the concept of sustainable development.

Meaning of sustainable development :

Sustainable development is a policy for continued development without affecting the quality of the environment. It refers to creating a style of economic development that is sustainable within the context of the planet’s ecosystem and human society.

In Brundtland’s report, sustainable development was defined as “ sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, it means an improvement in human well-being that allows us to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their own needs.

Components of sustainable development :

For sustainable development, the government should improve some of the factors of development like economic efficiency, proper facilities to restore the ecological systems and improve the welfare of the people.

The basic factors of sustainable development which were included in the report of ‘our common future which was published by the World Commission on Environment and Development are environmental protection, economic growth, and social equity. And in April 2002, Austria adopted its sustainable development strategy and has identified the basic components of sustainable development which include, importance on natural resources, economic development, and growth with a foreign development strategy.

Role of Indian judiciary :

After the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, India has witnessed drastic development in the field of environmental jurisprudence. The Indian judiciary in order to preserve the ecological system has played an important role in embracing Sustainable Development. The judiciary has widened the scope of Article 21 which includes the right to have a clean and healthy environment under the right to life. And the judiciary in many cases has accepted the concept of sustainable development as an important principle in maintaining the right balance between the environment and development.

In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India, the concept of sustainable development was elaborately discussed, wherein the supreme court summed up the principles of sustainable development. They are :

  1. Intergenerational equity
  2. Use and conservation of natural resources
  3.  Environmental protection
  4. Precautionary principle
  5.  Polluter pays principle
  6.  Obligation to assist and cooperate
  7.  Eradication of poverty
  8. Financial assistance to developing countries ., however, the court observed that the ‘The Precautionary Principle and ‘The Polluter Pays’ principle are essential features of the “Sustainable Development”

In Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, the court observed that “Sustainable development means what type or extent of development can take place which can be sustained by nature/ecology with or without mitigation

In M.C. Mehta vs Union Of India & Ors, the significance of sustainable development was observed by the court as “ The development and the protection of environments are not enemies. If without degrading the environment or minimizing adverse effects thereupon by applying stringent safeguards, it is possible to carry on development activity applying the principles of sustainable development, in that eventuality, the development has to go on because one cannot lose sight of the need for the development of industries, irrigation resources, and power projects, etc. including the need to improve employment opportunities and the generation of revenue. A balance has to be struck

In Indian Council for Enviro Legal Action v Union of India, the court held that “while economic development should not be allowed to take place at the cost of ecology or by causing widespread environmental destruction and violation, at the same time the necessity to preserve ecology and environment should not hamper economic and other developments

In N.D Jayal v. Union of India, the court observed that “ the adherence of sustainable development principle is a sine qua non for the maintenance of the symbiotic balance between the rights to environment and development. The right to the environment is a fundamental right. On the other hand right to development is also one. Here the right to ‘sustainable development’ cannot be singled out. Therefore, the concept of ‘sustainable development is to be treated as an integral part of ‘life’ under Article 21

The above-mentioned decisions by the apex court clearly indicate that a lot of importance has been given to sustainable development and the environment. Therefore in order to preserve ecological imbalance and degradation, the developmental activities must be regulated.

Conclusion : 

Sustainable development is a harmonious concept between environment and development. For sustainable development, the protection of the environment is essential. It seeks to maintain the balance between the protection of the environment and development. Fight against poverty, change in consumption pattern, healthy human settlement, pollution control .energy management, etc are the essential requirements for developing countries to achieve sustainable development.

The right to have a clean and healthy environment is a basic human right so as the right to development, both environment and development are interdependent. We cannot have development without protecting the environment, therefore sustainable development is necessary for protecting the environment without causing any harm to it.


  8. S.C.Tripati, ‘Environmental law’(Central law publications, Allahabad.,7th ed, 2019)
  9. P. Leelakrishnan, ‘Environmental law in India’ (Lexis Nexis, Haryana, 4th ed.,2016).
  10. Somnath Hazra ‘Environment and sustainable development: An Indian experience, Subir Ghosh Environment, and Development (Icfai university press, Hyderabad 1st,2010)

Author: Naveen Talawar,
student in Karnataka state law university's law school

Leave a Comment