Vedanta Limited vs State of Tamil Nadu 2024 INSC 175 – Environmental Law

Environmental Law – The polluter pays principle, a widely accepted norm in international and domestic environmental law, asserts that those who pollute or degrade the environment should bear the costs of mitigation and restoration. This principle serves as a reminder that economic activities should not come at the expense of environmental degradation or the health of the population- The public trust doctrine, recognized in various jurisdictions, including India, establishes that the state holds natural resources in trust for the benefit of the public. It reinforces the idea that the State must act as a steward of the environment, ensuring that the common resources necessary for the well-being of the populace are protected against exploitation or degradation. These principles underscore the importance of balancing economic interests with environmental and public welfare concerns. While the industry has played a role in economic growth, the health and welfare of the residents of the area is a matter of utmost concern. In the ultimate analysis, the State Government is responsible for preserving and protecting their concerns -Concept of intergenerational equity suggests that “present residents of the earth hold the earth in trust for future generations and at the same time the present generation is entitled to reap benefits from it.” The planet and its invaluable resources must be conscientiously conserved and responsibly managed for the use and enjoyment of future generations, emphasising the enduring obligation to safeguard the environmental heritage for the well-being of all – all persons have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, live a life free from disease and sickness, and for those who till the earth, have access to uncontaminated soil. These rights are not only recognized as essential components of human rights but are also enshrined in various international treaties and agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Agreement. As such, they must be protected and upheld by governments and institutions worldwide, even as we generate employment and industry. The ultimate aim of all our endeavours is for all people to be able to live ‘the good life.’ Without these basic rights, increased revenue and employment cease to have any real meaning. It is not merely about economic growth but about ensuring the well-being and dignity of every individual. As we pursue development, we must prioritize the protection of these rights, recognizing that they are essential for sustainable progress. Only by safeguarding these fundamental rights can we truly create a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and prosper. (Para 25-28)

Constitution of India, 1950; Article 136 – SC may exercise its power under Article 136 sparingly and only when exceptional circumstances exist which justify the exercise of its discretion. (Para 18)

Summary – The copper smelter operated by the petitioner (Vedanta Limited) at the SIPCOT industrial complex in Thoothukudi in Tamil Nadu was directed to be closed for violations of numerous environmental norms – SC dismissed SLP – High Court was justified in making the observations in regard to the lack of alacrity on the part of the Pollution Control Board in discharging its duties. The observations of the High Court do not call to be either expunged or obliterated from the record.

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