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Development And Environment: The Conflict Of Interest

Natural disasters caused by environmental degradation have become more common in recent years, serving as a painful wake-up call for all of humanity. Millions of fatalities and loss of land and property as a result of devastating floods, landslides, and cyclones have forced us to open Pandora's box and realise that we have butchered our environment to unthinkable proportions in our race for progress and modernization. As a result, it is evident that these disasters are entirely man-made rather than natural.

The struggle between development and environmental conservation stems from nations' ambition to become industrialised and secure their place as economically developed nations. It is evident that development and environmental protection are inextricably linked, and that one is the natural polar opposite of the other. It's because a country's development is dependent on utilising its environment and resources, but environmental protection certainly slows down the rate of development.

Environmental Degradation: The Consequence of Over-Exploitation

Climate change has emerged as one of the world's most pressing issues, raising concerns about our responsibilities to the earth and future generations. For many years, the devastation of natural resources such as lakes and rivers by filling them with water for commercial and residential uses has been the standard. They are used to build residences, skyscrapers, tourist resorts, and commercial operations.

Similarly, large-scale rock mining and quarrying continue unabated, producing landslides and wreaking havoc on water supplies, agriculture, land, and wildlife. Despite the fact that we have long acknowledged the need for environmental protection and have regulations in place to safeguard the environment, practical realities indicate that we have failed miserably to appropriately protect our environment, with disastrous consequences.

While there are international institutions and national legislation in place to ensure international collaboration in order to conserve the environment while still achieving development, it is important to remember that the influence and level of these environmental laws vary by country. If we look at the history of global environmental pollution and degradation, we can plainly see those industrialised countries such as the United States, Russia, and others were the primary perpetrators of environmental damage and big polluters.

Concerns about environmental protection and the need to regulate development did not gain traction until after they had solidified their place as industrialised nations and world leaders. This imposed a significant cost on developing and least developed countries, since they were forced to bear the brunt of environmental plunder despite not being the primary perpetrators. As a result, they were placed on an even more uneven footing with wealthy countries, ensuring that their rate of development would always be slower.

However, countries like India have mercilessly over-exploited the environment in their pursuit of economic progress, as evidenced by the devastating Kerala floods of 2018 and 2019, which killed thousands of people. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that compelled us to confront the serious repercussions of our conduct.

The Right to Development in Relation to Environmental Rights

India is a perplexing example of poverty in the face of abundant natural riches. On the one hand, there is a need for economic growth to promote social progress and improve human living conditions; on the other hand, massive environmental problems such as resource scarcity, species extinction, air pollution, soil pollution, and water pollution caused by industrial production directly threaten mankind's survival and long-term development.

In developing countries like India, the tension between the right to growth and the right to the environment is particularly visible and conspicuous. Both the right to development and the right to the environment are third-generation rights that are intimately linked to human progress and international peace. There is a de facto clash between the right to development and the right to the environment in developing countries, which has major consequences.

In India, the court has played a critical role in the creation and evolution of both the right to development and the right to the environment as both a human and a basic right, in addition to other legislations. The Supreme Court of India has demonstrated judicial inventiveness by establishing a new set of rights into the Constitution's chapter on fundamental rights that can be enforced in a court of law. The Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment is one of several rights that have been elevated to the rank of fundamental rights as a result of judicial innovation.

The judiciary has also constructed Right to Development as a basic right in its creative role. The right to development places human beings at the centre of development, with the state obligated to ensure that persons benefit from development. The fact that both of these opposing rights, the right to the environment and the right to development, have their origins in Article 21 of the Constitution is fascinating. Such assertion of rights inevitably raises the issue of governmental compliance. The courts have had to strike a balance between societal and private interests while attempting to balance both of these rights

Environmental Rights

The Supreme Court ruled in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar [1] that the Right to Environment, which is contained in Article 48A of the Constitution under Article 21, is a human right. "The right to life established in Art. 21 encompasses the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air for the full enjoyment of life," it was determined. An affected individual or a person genuinely concerned in the protection of society would have recourse to Art. 32 if something endangers or damages the quality of life."

In Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh [2], the Supreme Court held: "The right to exist in any civilised society entails the right to food, water, a good environment, education, medical treatment, and shelter." Any civilised culture is aware of these basic human rights."

The entire body of environmental law jurisprudence in India has developed under the auspices of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It's because the right to life encompasses more than just animal survival, and every citizen has the right to a particular standard of living, which is based on the right to the environment.

The significance of the Supreme Court in upholding the right to development was stressed in the case of T.N Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India [3]. Natural resources, it was said, constitute the nation's most valuable asset. All parties involved, including the federal government and state governments, have a responsibility to conserve and not squander resources. Any threat to the environment might result in a breach of the right to a healthy existence, which is guaranteed under Article 21 and must be preserved. The Supreme Court is obligated by the Constitution to protect the environment.

The Right to Develop

On the other hand, the judiciary has interpreted the Right to Development as a part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The human right to development is founded on both fundamental rights and State Policy Directive Principles. Fundamental Rights and Directives are the two wheels of the development chariot. "The right to development cannot be viewed as a mere right to economic betterment or as a misnomer to basic building operations," the Supreme Court held in N.D. Jayal and Anr. v. Union of India [4], the second Tehri Dam case.

The guarantee of fundamental human rights is included in the notion of the right to development, which incorporates much more than economic well-being. The right to development encompasses the complete range of civic, cultural, economic, political, and social processes aimed at enhancing people's well-being and realising their full potential. It is an essential component of human rights. Of course, building a dam or a large-scale project is an attempt to accomplish the goal of sustainable development. Such efforts could very well be considered a necessary part of the development process.

A review of the law on instances involving the right to the environment and the right to development demonstrates that the courts have attempted to make judgements that are pro-environmental while also promoting sustainable development.

The case of Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra v. Union of India [5], in which the court ordered the closure of limestone quarries despite the money and time involved, was one of the first cases in which the SC gave primacy to the right to environment over the right to development.

The court determined that the same was required to protect and safeguard people's right to live in a healthy environment with minimal disruption of ecological balance and without unnecessary risk to themselves, their cattle, homes, and agricultural land, as well as undue contamination of air, water, and the environment.

In a case known as the Kanpur tanneries case, M.C. Mehta v. Union of India [6], the Supreme Court struck a balance between the right to development and the right to the environment, saying: "In cases of this nature, this court may issue appropriate directions if it finds that the public nuisance or other wrongful act affecting or likely to affect the public is being committed and the statutory authorities charged with the duty to prevent it are not taking action." There should be a remedy for every violation of a right."

While the apex court in the above-mentioned decisions appears to prioritise the right to progress, this has been a constant approach. The Supreme Court, in the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India [7], where the dispute was about the Sardar Sarovar Dam, said that "while protecting the rights of the people from being violated in any manner, the utmost care must be taken that the court does not transgress its jurisdiction," while rejecting the Petitioners' plea. The powers of the government's institutions are quite well delineated in our constitutional framework, and the court has declined to meddle with the government's development policies.

The court in Banwasi Sewa Ashram v. State of Uttar Pradesh [8] took a similar approach, noting that woods were valuable national assets while still acknowledging that industrial development was important. "There is a significant demand for electric energy in this country for industrial growth and providing greater living conditions," it was noted. Indeed, the country as a whole, and specific regions of it in particular, have suffered a significant setback in industrial activity due to a lack of energy for quite some time. As a result, a plan to create electricity is equally important to the country and cannot be postponed."

Summing Up:
It is evident from the preceding rulings that both of these rights are extremely important, and that a constant schism between them is neither advisable nor desirable. The notion of sustainable development, which aims to achieve a delicate balance between development and environmental protection, gained traction during this time. The notion of sustainable development was recognised by the court in the case of Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum v. Union of India [9].

The old notion that development and ecological are mutually exclusive is no longer valid. Sustainable development is now widely recognised as a feasible strategy for eradicating poverty and improving human well-being while remaining within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.

The sort or extent of development that may take place and be sustained by nature/ecology with or without mitigation is referred to as sustainable development. The new requirement is that the risk of harm to the environment or human health must be determined in the public interest using the reasonable person test.

  1. A.I.R. 1991 S.C. 420
  2. (1996) 2 S.C.C. 549.
  3. (2006) 1 SCC 1
  4. (2004) 9 S.C.C. 362
  5. 1989 S.C.C. Supp. (1) 537.
  6. [1987] 4 S.C.C. 463.
  7. A.I.R. 2000 S.C. 3751
  8. A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 374
  9. (1996) 5 S.C.C. 647

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