The Precautionary Principle is a tool for making better health and environmental decisions. It aims to prevent harm from the outset rather than manage it after the fact. In common language, this means “better safe than sorry.” It is one of the important principles of Sustainable Development.

Precautionary Principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within our power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in. In short, the “precautionary principle” is a notion which supports taking protective action before there is complete scientific proof of a risk; that is, action should not be delayed simply because full scientific information is lacking.

EU communication on the Precautionary Principle (EU, 2000) states

The precautionary principle applies where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen by the EU’.

The important features of Precautionary Principle include:

  • Anticipatory Action by the Government and community as a whole to prevent harm.
  • Right to know about the information regarding impact of industries on human health and environment
  • Exploring alternative options which are feasible not just for the environmental benefits but also for the economic reasons.

In the case of Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v UOI, the Court opined that sustainable development is the need of the hour. The court emphasized on the fact that there should be a balance between economic growth and protection of the environment. The Court rejected the traditional concept that ecology and development are opposed to each other.

In Taj Trapezium Case AIR 2002 SC 3696 the Supreme Court was dealing with the problem of protecting the ‘Taj Mahal’ from the pollution of nearby industries. The Court applied the ‘Precautionary Principle’ as explained by it in Vellore case and observed – The environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. The ‘onus of proof’ is on an industry to show that its operation with the aid of coke/coal is environmentally benign. It is rather, proved beyond doubt that the emissions generated by the use of coke/coal by the industries in Taj Trapezium are the main polluters of the ambient air. The court ordered the industries to change over to the natural gas as an industrial-fuel or stop functioning with the aid of coke/coal in the Taj trapezium and relocate themselves as per the directions of the Court.

The NGT regards the precautionary principle as a determinative norm that allows the judges to examine the probability of environmental degradation and resulting harm that may occur from a proposed activity. This involves well-crafted scientific knowledge supporting precaution and prohibition of harm and a commitment to dealing with risks.

Sustainable development is gaining momentum not just in India but also Internationally, and moving forward with the help of Precautionary Principle is required. The Judiciary plays an important role in establishing the same with help of such landmark cases which give environmental impact an equal standing with the economic impact. Industrialization and modernization cater to nobody if they are harmful to current and future generations.


Precautionary principles 1

Precautionary principles 2

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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