The concept of Sustainable Development:
The term sustainable development was used at the time of Cocoyoc Declaration on Environment and Development in the early 1970s. Since then it has become the trademark of international organizations dedicated to achieving environmentally beneficial development. Sustainable Development means an integration of developmental and environmental imperatives. To be sustainable, development must possess both economical and ecological sustainability. It indicates the way in which developmental planning should be approached. The environment and development are means not ends in them. The environment and development are for people, not people for environmental and development.
Sustainable Development is essentially a policy and strategy for continued economic and social development without detriment to the environment and natural resources on the quality of which continued activity and further development depend. Therefore, while thinking of the development measures the need of the present and the ability of the future to meet its own needs and requirements have to be kept in view. While thinking of the present, the future should not be forgotten. We owe a duty to future generations and for a bright today, a bleak tomorrow cannot be countenanced. We must learn from our experiences, mistakes from the past, so that they can be rectified for a better present and the future. It cannot be lost sight of that while today is yesterday’s tomorrow, it is tomorrow’s yesterday.
In fact, the idea that, for the benefit of future generations, present generations should be modest in their exploitation of natural resources has found wide spread international approval since the Maltese Proposal at UN Assembly of 1967, which contended that there was a common heritage of mankind and that this also required legal protection by the international community.
Role of Judiciary in Protecting Sustainable Development:
In India, like any other developing country, there has been environmental degradation due to over exploitation of resources, depletion of traditional resources, industrialization, urbanization and population explosion. However, India has never been oblivious of this fact. In fact, India has always been in the fore – front of taking all possible steps for the protection and improvement of the environment and aiming at sustainable development. Since, man is the creator and moulders of his environment; his conduct can be regulated through the instrument of law. Thus, it can be seen that in India, there has been a regular development of the law regarding the protection of the environment. However, neither the law nor the environment can remain static. Both are dynamic in nature. The changing pace of the environment is so fast that in order to keep the law on the same wave – length either laws have to be amended quite frequently to meet the new challenges or it has to be given new direction by the judicial interpretation. This becomes all the more important in view of the ever increasing scientific and technological development and advancement which man has made. India has enacted various laws at almost regular intervals to deal with the problems of environmental degradation. At the same time the judiciary in India has played a pivotal role in interpreting the laws in such a manner which not only helped in protecting environment but also in promoting sustainable development. In fact, the judiciary in India has created a new “environmental jurisprudence”.
The tide of judicial considerations in environmental litigation in India symbolizes the anxiety of courts in finding out appropriate remedies for environmental maladies. The adherence to the principle of sustainable development is now a constitutional requirement. How much damage to the environment and ecology has been done has got to be decided on the facts of each case. Therefore, the courts are required to balance development needs with the protection of the environment and ecology. It is the duty of the state under our constitution to devise and implement a coherent and co – ordinate program to meet its obligation of sustainable development based on inter – generational equity.
It is true that in a developing country there shall have to be developments, but that development shall have to be in closest possible harmony with environment, as otherwise there would be development but no environment, which would result in total devastation, though, however, may not be felt in present but at some future point of time, but then it would be too late in the day to control and improve the environment. In fact, there has to be a proper balance between the development and environment so that both can co – exist without affecting the other.
In the wake of the 21st century it is neither feasible nor practicable to have negative approach to the development process of the country or of the society, but that does not mean, without any consideration for the environment. The society shall have to prosper, but not at the cost of the environment and in the similar vein, the environment shall have to be protected but not at the cost of development of the society. Thus, sustainable development is the only answer and administrative actions ought to proceed in accordance therewith and not dehorns the same.
The problem of environmental degradation is a social problem. Considering the growing awareness and the impact of this problem on the society in regard thereto, law courts should also rise up to the occasion to deal with the situation as it demands in the present day context. Law courts have a social duty since it is a part of the society and as such, must always function having due regard to the present day problems which the society faces. It is now a well – settled principle of law that socio – economic conditions of the country cannot be ignored by a court of law because the benefit of the society ought to be the prime consideration of law courts. Thus, the courts must take cognizance of the environmental problem. However, law courts ought not to put an embargo to any development project which may be in the offing. The courts are required to strike a balance between the development and ecology and there should be no compromise with each other. In other words, the courts, while dealing with the problem of environmental degradation, must apply the principles of sustainable development.
The judiciary in India has played a very important role in the environmental protection and has applied the principles of sustainable development while deciding the cases. There are number of cases on this point and, therefore, it will be necessary to study and analyze a few important cases in this area. It is also worthwhile to mention here that most of the environmental cases have come before the courts through “Public Interest Litigation” (PIL).