Indian Environmental Jurisprudence and its ground realities

It is often seen that courts give judgements which are suitable for a utopian society, without having effectiveness in reality. Like, in the Leather Tanneries case[1], the court upheld that “The financial capacity of the tanneries should be considered as irrelevant”, and that they must stop dumping waste in the river, regardless of the company’s financial capacity. Therefore, the focus was on compliance rather than bridging the gap between the policy and the real issue. This, in consonance with the need to be mindful of the political concerns and the will of the public at large, poses immense pressure leading to bias or ambiguous judgements, which can hardly be implemented in reality. 

In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. UOI[2], the court first established that “”The Precautionary Principle” and “The Polluter Pays Principle” are essential features of “Sustainable Development””. It asked the executive to adopt these while determining compensation to be imposed on tanneries or other polluting industries. However, no grounds was laid for determination of such liability. Moreover, lax implementation on the part of the government led to additional issues. The court left implementation up-to the executive which was pro development and barely cared about the conservation of the environment. 

Further, similar inconsistency can be witnessed in the precautionary principle adopted by the court in Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. UOI[3]. Here, the court stated that this principle can only be invoked when the threat is serious and the consequence of the same is unknown, otherwise sustainable development applies. However, no grounds for determining such seriousness were mentioned. 

In the Vellore judgement, the court first connected the concepts of strict and absolute liability with the polluter pays principle. Therefore, here the polluter cannot just pay for damages caused but is responsible for remedial measures to bring environment back to its original state. 

In Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. UOI[4], the court ordered the government to determine the compensation that was to be paid by respondent companies for recovery of environment. However, it failed to realize that compliance with its orders would only be possible provided the executive has the mechanism to implement it. Similarly, in the Oleum Gas leak case[5], the court imposed strict and absolute liability on polluters who carried out extremely dangerous activities which were hazardous for the environment. However, there is no guideline for the determination of such hazardous activity. 

Similar uncertainty exists in the judgements given by NGTs. In Manoj Mishra vs. UOI[6], the court upheld that whoever polluted the Yamuna River would be liable for compensation under “polluter pays”, however laid no framework for determination of who a ‘polluter’ is. 

Although in theory, these concepts seem effective however, a joint effort by the three agents of the state is necessary here. The “pollute and pay” mentality needs to be handled through laws as monetary compensation is human centric in nature, it does no good to the environment. The judiciary needs to provide more clarity, proper guidelines and mechanisms for implementation of the such principles. PILs are an effective remedy when coupled with proper injunctive reliefs and preventive measures on the part of the legislature. Further, extensive provisions for punitive damages need to be implemented and a greater role of the executive is needed while dealing with claims for compensation.[7]

[1] M.C. Mehta vs. Union Of India, 1988 AIR 1115.

[2] Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715.

[3] Narmada Bachao Andolan vs. Union of India, AIR 2000 SC 3753.

[4] Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action vs. Union of India, 1996 5 SCC 281.

[5] M.C Mehta vs. Union of India, AIR 1987 965.

[6] Manoj Mishra vs. Union of India and Ors, 2021 Original Application No. 06/2012.


[7] National Green Tribunals, 2010, No. 19 Acts of Parliament.

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.


Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at

In the year 2021, we wrote about 1000 Inspirational Women In India, in the year 2022, we would be featuring 5000 Start Up Stories.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: