This phrase simply means, “He who pollutes, pays.” The ‘Polluter Pays’ principle states that people who cause pollution should pay for the costs of removing it in order to avoid harm to human health or the environment and also compensate the victim. A factory that creates a potentially dangerous material as a by-product of its operations, for example, is typically held liable for its safe disposal. This is because if the government bears these expenditures, the financial burden will eventually fall on the tax-payer, i.e. the non-polluter. The polluter pays idea is one of the guiding principles for global sustainable development.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) first proposed the “polluter pays” approach in 1972. According to the report, the polluter is responsible for controlling and preventing pollution linked with the factory’s process. Pollutants were quickly identified as a type of waste by the World Commission on Environment and Development. As a result, the release of toxins into the environment was regarded as inefficiency of industrial production. As a result, the use of the “polluter pays” concept was employed as a powerful economic, administrative, and legal weapon to curb pollution.
According to the Supreme Court, once an activity is hazardous or intrinsically harmful, the person who engages in it is responsible for any losses incurred by others, regardless of whether reasonable care was used when engaging in it. In such instances, the polluter pays principle imposes absolute liability.
Despite the fact that the polluter pays concept has been actively implemented for more than three decades, there is still some debate over the exact scope of the regulation and, in particular, the payment’s boundaries. The rule has not yet been carried out to its logical conclusion. However, one ludicrous interpretation of this rule has been generally rejected, namely that it allows a producer to poison the environment without consequence if he is willing to pay the price. To put it another way, the notion should not be interpreted as “Pay and Pollute.”
Most governments around the world, including India, now recognize the polluter pays principle. The polluter pays approach is accepted as a core goal of government policy to reduce pollution, according to a policy statement issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of India.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution emphasizes that every Indian citizen has a basic right. Article 21 mentions the right to life and personal liberty as fundamental rights. Simply said, contaminating a community’s surroundings would deprive its residents of their most basic entitlement. Because pollution is an unavoidable consequence of industrialization, every citizen has a responsibility to protect the environment. As a result, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution is regarded as granting the right to community participation in environmental protection.
In the Bichhri case (Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 1446), the supreme court implemented the polluter pays concept for the first time, ordering that remedial and clean-up costs to repair the environment be collected from the polluter under the court’s writ jurisdiction. This guideline was referred to by the court as a “universal rule” that would apply to all polluters. As a result, the polluter was ordered to pay compensation for the harm done to the residents, the soil, and the underground water supply.
In the Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1966 SC 2715, the Supreme Court observed that “the polluter is liable to pay the cost to the individual who suffers, as well as the cost of reversing the damaged ecology, hence remedying the damaged environment is part of the process of sustainable development.”
The pollution caused by automotive emissions far outnumbers that caused by industrial emissions. Is it the vehicle’s owner or the manufacturer who is to blame for the vehicle’s emissions? Unfortunately, the ‘polluter pays principle’ makes no indication of who should be held responsible for automotive emissions.
Although the Polluter Pays Principle has helped to limit environmental damage to some extent, the provision remains an insufficient remedy because there is still ambiguity about who is the true polluter. When courts analyze the dimensions of extent and contribution to generating pollution, it is difficult to impose liability on a polluter who is a part of the “production chain.”
Furthermore, under this principle, the amount of compensation to be levied for the restoration of environmental harm remains insufficient in proportion to the real loss.
In the long run, more effective and explicit laws regarding the execution of the Polluter Pays Principle would be advantageous.
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