Sustainable Development, Guiding Principles And Values

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Published on : February 16, 2014

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Sustainable Development: Guiding Principles And Values

The well recognized principle of sustainable development for the protection and improvement of environment has been unanimously accepted by the world countries as a strategy that caters to the needs of the present without depriving the future generations of their right to available natural resources. It has been rightly said that sustainable development is meant to secure a balance between developmental activities for the benefits of the people and environmental protection and therefore, “it is a guarantee to the present and bequeath to the future generations.” The principle of sustainable development seeks to harmonise the conflict between development which may be industrial, economic or social, and right to healthy environment. In other words, the balance between environmental protection and developmental activities could only be maintained by strictly adhering to the principle of sustainable development.

Environmental studies have shown that the environment related problems of developed countries are mainly due to industrial and technological development whereas undeveloped countries have environmental problems because of poverty, over-population and illiteracy. Undoubtedly, encouragement and boost to developmental activities is in the socio-economic interest of a nation but this should not be at the cost of environmental degradation, because this will not only affect the present generation but have its adverse impact on the future generations. Therefore, sustainable development is the need of time so that development and environmental protection, both proceed maintaining a balance.

‘Development’ has been recognized as a human right under Rio- Declaration of 1992. But all the nations (parties) participating in this summit unanimously agreed that economic or industrial development should be carried out in a manner that it does not adversely affect the environment because environmental pollution is a potential danger to human life and in that case, what is the use of such development? It is for this reason that the principle of sustainable development was evolved in this world summit for maintaining a balance between development and environment, and it was realised that both should go hand in hand.

What is Sustainable Development
The principle of sustainable development has evolved on the basic assumption of co-existence of two apparently conflicting notions i.e. development and environment. But from the practical point of view, ecological, economic and social aspects of sustainability are inseparable. As William Rees has rightly pointed out that maintenance of ecological integrity has to be accorded primacy over achievement of socio-economic human needs, thus there should be a convergence between ecological and economic factors in the developmental process.

The principle of sustainable development emphasises on two basic needs, firstly, need for socio-economic development and secondly, need of limitation imposed on the environment's capability to cope with the present and future requirements.

Explaining the inter-dependence of conservation and sustainable development, the Brundtland Report (1997) said:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their, own needs…. Sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life.

Basic objectives of Sustainable Development
The principle of sustainable development seeks to achieve the following three basic objectives:
(1) to maintain production of goods and services for development and efficiency;
(2) conversation and management of neutral resources including preservation of bio-diversity and maintenance of biological integrity;
(3) maintenance and enhancement of the quality of life adopting the principle of equitable distribution of wealth and material resources.

These objective may respectively be called as economic, environmental and social objectives of the principle of sustainable development.
From the environmental point of view, the objective of the principle of sustainable development centres round three issues, namely, (i) to maintain essential ecological processes, (ii) to preserve genetic diversity; and (iii) to secure sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems.

Scope of Extent of Sustainable Development
The concept of sustainable development, as pointed out the chairperson Ms. Brundtland in her report (popularly called the Brundtland report) is aimed at meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability a future generations to meet their own needs. Commenting on sustainable development, the Former President of the World Bank James D. Yolkenson observed, “it is for us to think as to what kind of world we want. Do we want to bequeath a world for our future generation a poorest world wherein innumerable people die of hunger, climate uncertainty, biodiversity at its lowest ebb and social conditions most unstable? This observation of Volkenson clearly shows that the central focus of sustainable development is not confined to the present happiness of the people but it also expends to safeguarding the interests of the coming generations.

Sustainable development involves a multi-faceted approach i.e. (1) economic, (2) human, (3) environmental, and (4) technological. It is a process which seeks to bring improvement in the quality of human life alongwith conservation of the ecological system. Thus, development and environment, both are inter-dependent and therefore, there cannot be development without protection of environment, nor can there be conservation of environment without development.

The former U.N. General-Secretary Kofi-Annan had identified five areas for the applicability of the principle of sustainable development. They are (1) water, (2) health, (3) power and energy, (4) Agriculture and (5) Bio-diversity.

Former Prime Minister of India Smt. Indira Gandhi had categorically stated in her address at the Stockholm Conference, 1972 that water, air, land, soil, plants, trees and living organisms must be preserved because they are valuable natural resources for the benefit of the future generations.

Salient Principles of Sustainable Development
The principle of sustainable development which received international recognition as a result of Brundtland Commission Report (1987) was overwhelmingly supported by all the nations. Some of the salient principles which underlie the concept of sustainable development were spelled out in the Rio Declaration, 1992 and Agenda 21. Therefore, these principles have got to be necessarily followed in order to achieve the objective of sustainable development. These principles are as follows:
(1) Inter-generational equity;
(2) Use and conservation of natural resources;
(3) Environmental protection;
(4) The precautionary principle;
(5) The ‘Polluter Pays’ principle;
(6) Principle of liability to help and co-operate;
(7) Poverty eradication; and
(8) Principle of ‘public trust’.

(1) Inter-Generational Equity.- The principle of inter-generational equity pre-supposes the right of each generation of human beings to benefit from cultural and natural resources of the past generation as well as the ‘obligation’ to preserve such heritage for future generations. The principle emphasises on conservation of biodiversity resources and of the renewable sources like forests, water, soil etc.

The principle of inter-generational equity has its genesis in Principles 1 and 2 of the Stockholm Declaration, 1972 wherein environment has been taken to be resource basis for the survival of the present generation and right to be beneficially used by the future generations. Both these principles are reproduced as follows:
Principle 1.- Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for the present and future generations.

Principle 2.- The natural resources of the earth, including the air, water, lands, flora and fauna, and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of the present and future generations through careful planning and management, as appropriate.

In A.P. Pollution Control Board v. M.V. Nayudu, the Apex Court observed that where the State Government makes an attempt to balance the need of the environment and need of the economic development, it would not be proper to prohibit it from doing so. In such a case, it would be safer to apply the ‘protective principle’ and the ‘principle of polluter pays’, keeping in mind the principle of sustainable development and the ‘principle of inter-generational equity!

2. Use And Conservation of Natural Resources - This principle requires that earth's natural resources should be carefully used in such a way that they may be conserved and enhanced for the future generation. It must be borne in mind that natural resources are already depleting due to poverty, over- population, urbanisation, industrialisation etc. and there is likely to be acute shortage of these resources in future. Therefore, there is dire need to develop techniques and technologies which may need minimal utilization of natural resources.

The principle of use and conservation of resources is founded on the theory that the present generation should be modest in their exploitation of natural resources for the benefit of the future generations. This will secure the conditions of survival for future generations. This principle has been accepted by the international community in the form of Principles 8 and 23 of the Rio Earth Summit Declaration, 1992.
Principle 8 provides that in order to achieve sustainable development and a high quality of life for all people, States should reduce and eliminate unsustainable pattern of production and consumption. Thus, use and conservation of natural resources should be an essential principle of sustainable development.

Similarly, Principle 23 of the Rio-Declaration (1992) specifically states that the environment and natural resources of people under oppression, domination and occupation, shall be protected by all means.
The Supreme Court applying the principle of careful use and conservation of natural resources, observed in the case of A. Jagannath v. Union of India, that activities of the industries violative of this principle and of, environmental legislations must be discouraged.

In Indian Handicrafts Emporium v. Union of India, the indigenous ivory or ivory articles were prohibited from being exported as it impugned Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and was also against the moral claims embodied under Article 48-A of the Constitution and principle of conservation of natural resources.

3. Environmental Protection
Environmental protection is an integral part of sustainable development. Most of the nations have enacted environmental protection laws to ensure sustainable development within their territories. In order to reinforce sustainable development, an effective environmental protection mechanism is needed. It is generally seen that inadequate protection of environment or its degradation affects the poorest sections of the society most as they draw a large part of their livelihood from unmarked environmental resources such as forests, water from hand pumps, air polluted and noisy slum dwellings etc. The problem of environmental protection generally emanates from water resources, forests, agriculture, industry, energy and power etc., therefore, policy decisions in these sectors should be environmental oriented and well planned so as to ensure that there is no degradation in the natural environment.

So far India is concerned, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is the central legislation. Besides, there are some other pollution control and prevention laws and States have also framed their own anti-pollution laws according to their local requirements. The ultimate object is to ensure sustainable development for protection of environment from being degraded or polluted.

4. Precautionary Principle
The precautionary principle seeks to ensure that a substance or human activity which may cause a threat to the environment is prevented from causing harm to environment, even if there is no conclusive scientific proof of linking that particular substance or human activity to environmental damage. Thus, precautionary principle pre-supposes that onus of proof is on the industrialist to show that his action is benign, that is not harmful to environment.

The precautionary principle in the context of environmental protection is essentially about the management of scientific risk. It is a component of the concept of ecologically sustainable development and has been defined in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration, 1992.” According to this principle, “where there is threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation." In other words, any human activity or behaviour which bears the harmful effect to the environment, has got to prevented at all costs.

It may be stated that prior to the precautionary principle as incorporated in Principle 15 of the Rio-Declaration, 1992, Principle 6 of the Stockholm Declaration, 1972 relating to the Assimilative Capacity Principle was the governing rule which provided as under :-
The discharge of toxic substances or of substances and the release of heat, in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted in order to ensure that serious irreversible damage is not inflicted upon ecosystem. The just struggle of the peoples of all countries against pollution should be supported.”

Thus, the assimilative capacity principle assumed that science could provide policy-makers the information and means necessary to avoid encroaching upon the capacity of the environment to assimilate impacts and it is presumed that relevant technical expertise would be available when environmental harm was predicted and there would be sufficient time to act in order to avoid such harm.
The precautionary principle has received legal recognition in almost all the international instruments and has now become an integral part of the United Nations Environmental Programme. The European Community has adopted the principle in the Bergen Declaration on Sustainable Development, 1990 and reiterated that environment related actions should predict, prevent and ‘suppress environmentally harmful factors’.

Beginning with Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, the

Supreme Court explicitly recognised the precautionary principle as a principle of Indian environmental law in a number of subsequent cases. Justice Kuldeep Singh of the Supreme Court in Vellore Citizens case laid down the following rules with regard to precautionary principle :-
(1) The State Governments and local authorities are supposed to anticipate and then prevent the cause of environmental degradation. They are supposed to check the activity which is damaging for environment;
(2) Merely because there is a lack of scientific knowledge as to whether a particular activity is causing degradation, it should not stand in the way of the Government;
(3) The onus of proof is on the actor (i.e. person who does the activity) or the developer/industrialist to show that the action was environmentally friendly.
In order to achieve the above, the following precautions are supposed to be taken:
(i) The decision should be based on best possible scientific information and analysis of risk;
(ii) Where there is uncertainty but potentially serious list exists, even then precautionary measures are supposed to be taken;
(iii) Ecological impacts should be given paramount consideration, more so when resources are non-renewable or where the result is irreversible;
(iv) The indication of the cost should be made known directly to the person who if does not take precaution, can be called upon to meet the expense – a subject which may fall under the head “polluter pays Ii principle.”

In Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, the Apex Court explained that “when there is a state of uncertainty due to lack of data or material about the extent of damage or pollution likely to be caused, then in order to maintain ecological balance, the burden of proof that the said balance will be maintained, must necessarily be on the industry or the unit which is likely to cause pollution.”

5. “Polluter Pays” Principle
All the member countries participating in the Organisation For Economic Co-operation and Development (O.E.C.D.) agreed to incorporate in their environmental policies the principle of 'polluter pays' so as to discourage subsidies that could be detrimental for trade. They deemed this necessary for the protection of environment and save the country from threats posed by environmental pollution in modernised industrial societies. “Polluter Pays” principle was considered to be one of the best method for prevention of environmental pollution. But there were practical difficulties in working out an exact definition of the principle as there could be dispute as to the limits on payment for damages caused and exact scope of the applicability of principle.

Despite these difficulties, the European Community in its Action Programme on Environment had accepted the ‘polluter pays’ principle as a part of its strategy on environmental matters. The principle Was incorporated in Article 130 R (2) of the action programme which reads as follows :-
(i) Preventive action is always preferable to remedial action;
(ii) Environmental damage should be rectified at source;
(iii) The polluter should pay the costs of the measures taken to protect and preserve the environment;
(iv) environmental policies should be a component of the European Community’s other policies.

Finally, the “polluter pays” principle was recognised as an integral part of the sustainable development by the international community arid was incorporated as Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration of Earth Summit, 1992. The principle reads as follows :-
Principle 16 National authorities should endeavour to promote the internationalisation of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments taking into account the approach that the polluter should in principle bear the cost of pollution with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.”

As a matter of fact, this principle was already accepted and included as Principle 4 of the Stockholm Declaration in 1972 but it was legally and internationally recognised as a substantive principle of environmental law under Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration, 1992.

The Supreme Court in M.C. Mehta v, Kamal Nath, observed that ‘polluter pays principle has been recognised as fundamental objective of Government's environmental policy to prevent and control pollution. The Court in this case observed that the calculation of environmental damages should not be on the basis of claim put forward by the party, but it should be on the basis of examination of the situation by the Court, keeping in view the factors such as deterrent nature of the award.

In Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, the Supreme Court directed the Central Government to constitute an authority under Section 3 (3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and confer on this authority all the powers necessary to deal with the situation created by tanneries and other polluting industries in the State of Tamil Nadu. The authority so constituted shall implement the ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘Polluter Pays Principle.’

6. Principle of Liability to help and Co-operate
This principle has been specifically incorporated in Rio-Declaration (1992) as Principle 9 which provides that the States should co-operate to strengthen indigenous capacity building for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge and by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies including new and innovative technologies.

Principle 10 of the Rio-Declaration further provides that environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens at the relevant level. Emphasising the need for mutual cooperation in environmental matters, Principle 12 requires the States to cooperate to promote a supportive and open international economic system that would lead to economic growth and sustainable development in all countries, in order to address the problem of environmental degradation in a better way.

Finally, Principle 27 of the Rio Declaration expects people and the States to co-operate in good faith and in a spirit of partnership in the future development of international law in the field of sustainable development.

7. Poverty Eradication
Poverty is perhaps the worst contributing factor for polluting the environment and causing its degradation. Smt. Indira Gandhi, the Late former Prime Minister of India, addressing the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment in 1972 said, “of all pollutants we face, the worst is poverty”. The Brundtland Report (1987) also attributed poverty as a potential cause of environmental degradation as it reduces people’s capacity to use resources in a sustainable manner, which eventually brings more pressure on environment and results into its deterioration. Most of the developing countries’ are facing the problem of poverty which is adversely affecting the environmental quality.

The Earth Summit, 1992 also projected that elimination of poverty was utmost necessary for achieving the goal of sustainable development, particularly m the developing countries.

India being a developing country, its more than 30 per cent people are living below the poverty line. The pitiable condition 'of slum-dwellers, scaricity of food, fuel, kerosene oil etc. are serious threats for environment. Due to lack of residential, houses crores of poor men, women and children are compelled to live in slums and even on road-side temporary hutment in most unsanitary conditions without sufficient food and water. Thus, they have to live in unwholesome environmental conditions. Therefore, India needs cooperation and assistance from the developed countries to help and support the poverty alleviation programme and maintenance of wholesome environmental conditions.

Protection of Forests
It must be stated that awareness about the protection of forests is also closely connected with the principle of public trust applicable for the preservation of natural resources. The State being a trustee of forest-resource, it is the moral and legal obligation of the Government to protect forests from being destroyed by indiscriminate felling of trees. If forests are well preserved, it will reduce soil erosion and increase fertility of land and also cause sufficient rainfall which is necessary for cultivation and domestic purposes in the form of water. But despite these benefits from forests, the record shows that almost one-third of the part of the forest in tropical region had been destroyed due to deforestation until the year 1970. Unfortunately, destruction of forest still continues and nearly 1,70,000 sq. k.m. forest land has been converted into plain for construction of industries, complexes and other commercial purposes. Besides, seven lakh hectare land has turned into desert and gallons of polluted water is being flowed in rivers, lakes and seas causing irreparable damage to environment and ecosystem.

In view of this destruction of forests, the Government is failing in its duties as trustee of this valuable natural resource and causing damage to its beneficiaries i.e., the peop1e could not exploit it for their own use, what to talk of leaving it for use by future generations'! Even now, it is not too late and there is need on the part of the State to protect and preserve the valuable natural resources as a trustee and people to cooperate with the administration to protect environment from being degraded.

It is true that in order to improve and protect the environment from pollution sustainability must be there between environment and development. The concept of sustainable development based on the notion that natural resources should be exploited for the benefit of both present and future generation. As we know that increased industrial activity worldwide requires the use of natural resources which are depleting day by day. It is also true that the need for resource conservation, efficient use of resources and environment friendly corporate policies and behaviour has now been recognised worldwide. The country needs an Environmental policy and planning, while being globally sensitive must be based on local needs. Finally, if sustainable development has to move from mere wishful thinking and slogan-mongering into a reality, the world (developed and developing) as a whole has to move towards a new world order in which new economic and technological orders are dovetailed. Such an order has to be aimed at benefiting the poor because in the chain of sustainable development, the weakest links are poverty and inequality. Last but not least, if the principles of sustainable development are followed then definitely with the economic growth and industrial development of a country environment protection can be maintained.

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# Assistant Professor, Institute of Law, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, E-mail
# Dr. Vinay N. Paranjape, “Environmental Law” (2013) Central Law Agency, p. 74.
# N.D. Dayal v. Union of India, (2004) 9 SCC 362.
# The UN Earth Summit, 1972 held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).
# William E. Rees : Understanding Sustainable Development (1998) p. 20.
# Philippe Sands: Principles of International Environmental Law (1995) p. 198.
# Report of the U.N. Commission on Environment and Development titled as Our Common Future (1987) p. 43.
# Article 39 (c) of the Constitution of India.
# P.S. Nathani : Environment, Natural Resources and Pollution, (2007) p. 53.
# These issues were discussed in the Rio Earth Summit, 2002.
# Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2515.
# P.S. Jaswal and Nishtha Jaswal: Environmental Law, (2009) p. 120.
# (1999) 2 SCC 718 (739).
# See also Consumer Education & Research Society v. U.O.I., (2002) 2 SCC 599 (605) ; Intellectual Forum v. State of A.P., (2006) 3 SCC 549 (576).
# (1997) 2 SCC 87; see also M.C. Mehta v. U.O.I., (1997) 2. SCC 353 (known as Taj Trapazium case), Animal & Environment Legal Defence Fund v. U.O.I., (1997) 3 SCC 549 etc.
# (2003) 7 SCC 589.
# The Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, The Air (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 ; The Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972, The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, The # Biodiversity Act, 2002 and the Rules made under these Acts.
# United Nations Conference on Environment & Development, Rio-de-Janerio, 1992.
# Year Book of International Environmental Law, 429 (1990).
# (1996) 5 SCC 647.
# The Supreme Court discussed the development of precautionary principle in its decision in the case of A.P. Pollution Control Board v. Prof. M V. Nayudu, (1999) 2 SCC 718; In M. Stalin v. Chairman, # Bhimrao Nagar Palika Parishad, AIR (2001) 2 AP 308, the high court refused permission for starting a slaughter house in a public place as it was likely to cause pollution.
# (1996) 5 SCC 647.
# (2000) 10 SCC 664.
# Simon Stuart Bell: Environmental Law, (1991) p. 97.
# Ibid., 64.
# (2000) 4 SCC 213.
# (1996) 5 SCC 647; (Popularly known as Tamil Nadu Tanneries case). The Central Government accordingly constituted the “Loss of Ecology (Prevention & Payment of Compensation Authority” w.e.f. # September 30, 1996.
# ‘Our Common Future’ – The World Commission on .Environment & Development, (1987) pp. 49-50.
# Olga Tellies v. Municipal Corporation, Bombay, AIR 1956 SC 180; see also Vanvasi Sevashram v. State of U.P., 1987 SC 374