Sustainable development and the role of Indian judiciary and public trust doctrine


Development without the concern for the environment is short term development. Long term development is known as anti – development which can only be at the cost of enormous human suffering like poverty , oppress ion , etc . Over the past few  the exploitation of the mineral resources , deforestation , global warming, etc contributed to unstainable development hence environmental protection measures are necessary for sustainable development globally.

Concept and definition

sustainable development is a process towards economic development without compromising the quality of the environment for future generations. In this process the price paid is the environmental deterioration in the form of acid rain , polluted river bodies etc .

  sustainable development refers to the development to meet the needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs .


  • To promote development in such a way it does not lead to environmental problems .
  • To cater the needs of the present generations without compromising the environment for the future generations.

Role of Indian judiciary

The Indian judiciary played a great role in sustainable development .the judiciary at the national level , is faced with the task of explicating the concept of sustainable development the supreme court interpreted the right to life and personal liberty shall include the right to wholesome environment.

The following cases can be mentioned :

Rural litigation entitlement Kendra bas state of up (A.I.R 1985), In this case , the supreme court for the first time dealt with the matter of environment and development and stated that  it should be kept in mind that they are the permanent assets if the mankind and should be intended to b exhausted in one generation.

Vellore citizens welfare forum Vs UOI ( A.I.R 1996) , the supreme court stated that sustainable development is a viable concept which eradicates poverty and improves the standard of living of the people with carrying capacity supporting the ecosystem.

In L.koolwal Vs UOI (A.I.R 1988) the supreme court allowed the writ petition and held that insanitation

Is slow poisoning which would cause adverse affects on the health of the people and falls with the purview of article 21.

T.N godavarmathimulpad Vs UO(I A.I.R  2002   ) the apex court banned all the mining activities in the aravelly valley especially in the areas which were considered to be forest areas those protected under the environment protection act .1986

People United for better living Vs state of WB (A.I.R 1993)

Held that in the developing nations the development should be in harmony  the environment. There must be an equilibrium between the environment and the economic development.

A.P pollution control board Vs UOI : held that in order to ensure that there is neither damage to the environment nor ecology and the sustainable development is maintained it can refer the scientific and technical aspects of investigation and opinion to the statutory bodies having combination of the judicial and technical expertise with the appellate authority under the environmental appellate authority act 1971.

Indian council for enviro – legal  Vs Union of India : Held that, thes”polluter pay principle’ is an element of the sustainable development. Remediation of the damaged environment is a part of the process of sustainable development which makes the polluter liable to pay the cost to the individual sufferers and liable to pay cost for reversing the damaged ecology.

N.D jayal Vs UOI  ,it was held that sustainable development is an integral part of article 21 of the Constitution. Complying with the sustainable development is a constitutional mandate.The judiciary played a commendable role in maintaining the balance between the environment and development.

Goa Foundation Vs Diksha holdings , A P.I.L was filed against the construction of the hotel and beach resort on the Goa coastal areas on the ground that it would cause damage to the environment. Held that the grant of permission for the proposes hotel was based on the consideration of the relevant material and was not violative of the statutory provisions.

Public  trust doctrine :  The ancient Roman empire developed a legal theory known as the doctrine of the public trust .The doctrine primarily rests on the principle that certain resources like air , sea, waters, and the forests have such a great importance to the people as a whole that it would be wholly unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership. The said resources brings gift of nature, they should be made freely available to everyone irrespective of the status in life.

The doctrine enjoins upon the government to protect the resources for the enjoyment of the general public rather than to permit their use for private ownership or commercial purposes. Through the public trust doctrine under the English common law firm extended only to certain  traditional uses like navigation, commerce and fishing, the us courts in the recent cases expanded the concepts of the public trust doctrine.

The doctrine facilitates the public interest litigation. In M.L Builders Vs Radhe Shyam AIR 1999 ,the supreme court held that allowing an under ground shopping complex to come up below a public park violated the public trust doctrine . The court directed demolition of the structures and restoration of the park.

A question arises whether the public trust doctrine apply only to the allocation of pristine natural resources or does it extend to pollution cases as well ?


It can be concluded that sustainable development is a multi dimensional concept with three interesting angles – ecology , economics , and ethics . The necessary condition for achieving sustainable development are ecological security, economic efficiency, and social equity. Sustainable development does not end with the sustainability of just the environment and resource system but requires the sustainability also of economic and social system.

Author- Harshita swami, Guwahati university, Guwahati, Assam

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