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Actualization of the Doctrine of Sustainable Development and National Green Tribunal Act (NGT)

Understanding the present context regarding different government schemes on Remaking India into Sustainably Developed Nation through proper actualization of the programmes that it has developed for the targeted marginalised communities, it has been clearly depicted from different scholarly reports that more than 'want & need' it has been the 'greed of many' that has still kept the tag of 'developing' before we count India into development. 

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed."
-Mahatma Gandhi.

With an overarching viewpoint we can observe that India- fallen among all the growing economies has seen rampant industrialization and development in recent past, which resulted in adverse impact in the environment. Witnessing such degradation, the Supreme Court of India in a bid to protect the environment, played a significant role in shaping and adopting the well-known 'Doctrine of Sustainable Development'. This crusade for safeguarding the environment was led by Justice Kuldip Singh who famously came to be known as the 'Green Judge' after that.

In relation to the growth of economies and the need versus greed bars, the doctrine of Sustainable Development becomes the most relevant principle in today's times. The doctrine of Sustainable Development has been defined as the development that meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Basically it contains two concepts:

a) The concept of needs, in particular, the essential needs of the world's poor, to which overriding priority should be given, and

b) The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment's ability to meet present and future needs.

This definition emanates from 'Our Common Future' also known as the Brundtland Report published by World Commission Environment and Development in 1987.

Discussing some more about the doctrine of sustainable development, we may find that it attempts to maintain a balance between Development and Environment, promoting inter-generational equity, i.e., better quality of life for present as well as future generations. It also aims to maintain a the environment in order to meet the needs of the present & future generations. The doctrine of sustainable development is based on its two pillars. They are : a) Polluter Pays principle and b) Precautionary principle.

The National Green Tribunal Act

As discussed earlier, the risks to environment and human health due to unchecked and rampant industrialisation that has intervened in the very recent past leaded to various decision-making at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June, 1972 followed by United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, to both of which Conferences our India was a party and, the legislature enacted the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 (Act). Vide the Act, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) was established for effective and expeditious disposal of cases involving multi-disciplinary issues relating to environment. Now, to talk about the powers of the National Green Tribunal Act, we may find that under Section 19 of the Act, NGT has been empowered to hear all the civil matters related to environment. Significantly, the NGT is not bound by the procedures of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 and is bound by the principles of natural justice. While deciding a case, the NGT should apply the principles of Sustainable Development, to be more specific- the precautionary principle and polluter pays principle. In furtherance of its duties, the NGT has furthered the crusade of environment protection based on the doctrine of Sustainable Development. Even though the Tribunal has time and again stoutly applied the doctrine of Sustainable Development and valued the local population over economic benefits from a project, the NGT, quite interestingly has also passed judgments in favor of industries when the economic development surpasses the environmental costs. The NGT in various cases has held in favor of project/ industries where an industry/project has taken adequate preventive steps, migratory measures and are armed with detailed Environment Management Plan backed by scientific studies. So we may find it ourselves the technocracy backed by different gap theories which lies underneath such massively taken unified acts!

Sustainable Development Goals

We already know that the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 had laid down seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to encounter the urgent environmental, economic and political challenges being faced by the world. The seventeen goals that were set: to end poverty; zero hunger; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace, justice and strong institutions and partnership for the goals.

Most importantly, one can see that these goals are achievable only when nations forget their boundaries & limits and work together as global citizens. One of the major goals is to combat climate change, which would entail climate action, industry innovation and infrastructure, use of affordable and clean energy and building sustainable cities and communities.

Combating Climate Change

Climate change is a global phenomenon, which transcends national boundaries. Emissions anywhere affect people everywhere and hence it's a global issue, which requires global solution. International cooperation between all nations is required to help developing nations become green or low-carbon economies. The rich nations, such as USA (one of the most polluting nations, having the largest per capita carbon emission) must help developing nations such as India, in moving towards low-carbon economies. The rich countries have a larger role to play and must commit to lowering their carbon footprint and help the developing nations monetarily and by way of exporting technical know-how to developing nations. Commitment to Climate Change can be secured from all Nations basic principles of "climate justice" and principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.


Given that a large population of India is dependent upon agrarian economy, and lives in vast coastal areas and Himalayan regions, India is highly vulnerable to adverse effects of Climate change. However, India also has 30% of its population under poverty; 20% living without proper housing; 25% living without electricity and is a growing economy, thus economic and infrastructural development is critical too. Thus, in this milieu it is most important that development projects be encouraged and while being conceptualized, the doctrine of Sustainable Development be kept in mind.

In order to maintain a balance between development and environment, the principle of Sustainable Development which encompasses the 'Precautionary Principle' must be followed while envisaging a project. This would prevent any anticipated environmental impact a project may have by following and incorporating mitigating measures. Right from the stage of selection of site, to adopting efficient and environmental friendly measures at each stage and facet of construction to avoid or minimise environment de-gradation, to providing mitigatory measures and monitoring the impact of a project on the environment/eco-system and thereafter providing for restorative action in case of any degradation is imperative in today's pro- environment climate and is also the need of the hour.

The developers today must be conscious of the environment and adopt a green, pro- environment, scientific and energy efficient mind-set for each stage of a project. These measures, may increase the over-all expenditure of the project, but in the longer run the benefits would surpass such costs. 

Undeniably, Sustainable Development is the need of the hour. With the advent of energy efficient technology, a harmonious marriage between development and environment is possible. It is time that each one of us adopt an 'energy-efficient and green' mind-set and use the natural resources available equitably, judiciously and save them for our future generations, as the best way to predict future is to create it.

Few quotes are there which inspires us when we talk about sustainable future and development, just like many I may share one such quote to end here..

                                                                                                                                                                                      By: Amitava Dutta
                                                                                         Project Coordinator,
EU, Welthungerhilfe Project, Badlao Foundation


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