India - Constitutional Right,. Environment Protection Fund, Polluter Pays Principle, Precautionary Principle
VELLORE CITIZENS WELFARE FORUM v.
UNION OF INDIA
Petitioner, the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, filed this action to stop tanneries in the State of Tamil Nadu from discharging untreated effluent into agricultural fields, waterways, open lands and waterways. Among other types of environmental pollution caused by these tanneries, it is estimated that nearly 35,000 hectares of agricultural land in this tanneries belt has become either partially or totally unfit for cultivation, and that the 170 types of chemicals used in the chrome tanning processes have severely polluted the local drinking water. The Court has passed other orders relating to this case, and has monitored this petition for almost five years.
Constitution of India, Articles 21, 32, 47, 48A, 51A(g).
The Supreme Court noted that although the leather industry is a major foreign exchange earner for India and provided employment, it does not mean that this industry has the right to destroy the ecology, degrade the environment or create health hazards.
Sustainable development, and in particular the polluter pays principles and the precautionary principle, have become a part of customary international law. Even though section 3(3) of India's Environment Protection Act 1986, allows the Central Government to create an authority with powers to control pollution and protect the environment, it has not done so. Thus, the Court directed the Central Government to take immediate action under the provisions of this act.
The Court ordered the Central Government to establish an authority to deal with the situation created by the tanneries and other polluting industries in the State of Tamil Nadu. This authority shall implement the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, and identify the (1) loss to the ecology/environment; and (2) individuals/families who have suffered because of the pollution, and then determine the compensation to reverse this environmental damage and compensate those who have suffered from the pollution. The Collector/District Magistrates shall collect and disburse this money.
If a polluter refuses to pay compensation, his industry will be closed, and the compensation recovered as arrears of land revenue. If an industry sets up the necessary pollution control devices now, it is still liable to pay for the past pollution it has generated.
Each tannery in the listed district is subject to a Rupees 10,000 fine which will be put into an "Environment Protection Fund". This fund will be used to restore the environment and to compensate affected persons. Expert bodies will help frame a scheme to reverse the environmental pollution. All tanneries must set up common effluent treatment plants, or individual pollution control devices, and if they do not, the Superintendent of Police and the Collector/District Magistrate/Deputy Commissioner in each of the respective districts is authorised to close the plants down. No news industries shall be permitted to be set up within the listed prohibited areas.
This matter will now be monitored by a Special Bench- "Green Bench"- of the Madras High Court.
Council for Enviro Legal Action v. Union India (1996) 2 JT (SC) 196:
(1996 AIR SCW 1069)
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