top of page

Environmental Justice in India

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

- Abhayraj Naik*

Crisis, sustainability and environmental justice

In early October 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report Global Warming of 1.5 °C in the context of “strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”[1] The report unambiguously points to the looming environmental crises facing the globe (warming of extreme temperatures in many regions, increases in frequency, intensity, and/or amount of high precipitation in several regions, and an increase in intensity or frequency of droughts in some regions) and warns of long-lasting or irreversible environmental impacts (such as loss of some ecosystems) from climate change if rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented global changes in most aspects of social life are not immediately implemented to limit global warming to acceptable levels. The report leaves absolutely no doubt that India, particularly in coastal areas and in mega-cities like New Delhi and Bengaluru, is going to face numerous devastating effects of climate change in the very near future if a business-as-usual approach persists for any longer.

Even without the impressive scientific insights provided by the IPCC report, any keen observer of the state of the environment in India will tell you that things do not look good at all. Currently, India’s capital New Delhi finds itself in the grips of a serious air pollution crisis that has local residents and governmental agencies desperately scrambling around to find ways to respond to a seemingly uncontrollable situation that threatens health, livelihood, liberty and life for everyone.[2] Degradation of water, soil, air, and food continues unabated across India, serious biodiversity loss barely draws a response from the government, massive development projects are routinely approved without any serious investigation of environmental and social impacts, extreme climate events from floods to heat waves to drought have become increasingly common with each passing year, most major Indian cities are caught in the grip of public health crises spread by congestion, pollution and new breeds of disease-spreading vectors - the alarming signs of a full-throated ongoing environmental crisis in India are visible for all to see.

As a comprehensive and potentially objective measure of environmental well-being in India, take for example, the Environment Performance Index (EPI) 2018 released in January 2018, which ranks 180 countries on 24 performance indicators across environmental health and ecosystem vitality. India (at rank 177 out of 180) comes in near the bottom of the rankings.[3] Low scores on the EPI are “indicative of the need for national sustainability efforts on a number of fronts, especially cleaning up air quality, protecting biodiversity, and reducing GHG [Green House Gases] emissions”, and the EPI Report is unambiguous in stating that given India’s extremely low air quality score, the country faces “a public health crisis that demands urgent attention.” [4]

These contemporary alerts remind us of the long-pending need for a comprehensive and contextual evaluation of sustainability and environmental protection mechanisms in India. My own research and teaching experience with environmental law, ecological justice, and sustainable development, along with involvement with regional and national environmental campaigns in India, for over a decade, have convinced me beyond a doubt that law, policy and governance in India are woefully under-developed and ill-equipped to meet the challenges of sustainability and justice in the Indian context. We are of course seeing the full consequences of such failings across the country today, and an accounting for in terms of environmental justice and related injustices remains to be urgently carried out.[5]

Sustainability and sustainable development, in India and across the world, have become the primary conceptual frameworks through which environmental issues are discussed and debated.[6] The iconic definition of sustainable development from Our Common Future, the seminal 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (chaired by Gro Harlem Brundtland) that was created by a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1983, called for development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[7] As the definition also indicates, there is a certain vagueness and elasticity in the conceptual core of sustainability, which makes labels of ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ highly vulnerable to co-optation by particular economic and political interest groups. Mainstream discourses of sustainability and sustainable development in India often obscure the injustice and inequity of specific kinds of human activity relating to the environment. Framing issues in the language of environmental justice therefore allows us to excavate these silences in the mainstream discourses of sustainable development, which in turn makes possible a more informed critique of how power operates in the political and legal systems in India that govern the environment.

Further, India currently faces multiple environmental and social crises that have directly resulted from the unjust political and economic systems that operate in the country. A coherent political account of how we could respond to these challenges for law and sustainable development in India requires the conceptual arsenal provided by environmental justice theory and practice. Ideas of environmental justice therefore enable “new critical engagements with the relations between economy, environment and society, and illuminate the radical potential of sustainability.” [8] Making the quest for environmental and social justice a central concern requires confronting the fundamental underlying processes (and their associated power structures, social relations, institutional configurations, discourses, and belief systems) that generate environmental and social injustices. As David Harvey has perceptively pointed out, the fundamental problem remains one of “unrelenting capital accumulation and the extraordinary asymmetrics of money and political power that are embedded in that process.” [9]

This essay provides a synoptic overview of the functioning of the environmental governance system in India as part of an effort to renew sustained enquiry into environmental justice and the fundamental underlying processes relating to the environment in India.

India’s dysfunctional and perverted system of environmental governance

At the outset, readers should note that ‘environmental law and policy in India’ is a compendious term that refers to legal material from a bewildering variety of sources: constitutional provisions relating to the environment and public-participation in the Constitution of India; international environmental treaties and customary international environmental law that create legal obligations for India; framework procedure-enabling environmental legislations such as the Environment Protection Act (1986) and the National Green Tribunal Act (2010); national and/or state-level environment-specific legislations and sectoral policies on areas such as forests, rivers, wetlands, wildlife, animals, pollution, biological diversity, groundwater, municipal waste, plant varieties, trees, parks, climate change, environment impact assessments, etc.; legally-binding judicial decisions in environmental cases decided at the Supreme Court of India, the 24 High Courts (that operate at the state-level), and the National Green Tribunal (with its Principal Bench at New Delhi and regional benches at Chennai, Pune, Bhopal and Kolkata); and finally, related law and policy (national and state-level legislations, national and state-level policies, applicable international law, and relevant judicial decisions) from a wide variety of other areas that become relevant to environmental concerns in specific contexts (this could include, for example, laws relating to agriculture, mining, energy, infrastructure, information, urban planning, land use and acquisition, motor vehicles, finances, food, crimes, etc.).

While environmental law is certainly a subject where ‘reassured certainties give way to tormented complexities,’[10] the fragmented, incoherent and jumbled texture of Indian environmental law and policy add a great deal of unnecessary confusion to the difficult challenges at hand.[11] Further, the existing administrative regulatory/implementation frameworks and mechanisms for environmental law in India (involving a hodgepodge arraying of institutions and jurisdictional competences) do not function efficiently. The entire environmental administrative regulatory system in India (largely comprised of central and state-level pollution control boards, the central and state-level environmental ministries, and specialized central and state-level regulators for coastal zones, biodiversity, groundwater, wildlife, animal welfare, genetic engineering, etc.) is geared towards almost automatically granting environmental clearances rather than evaluating environmental impacts. Systematic monitoring and enforcement are rare to non-existent. Further, most institutional regulators have poor financial resources, limited staffing, and extremely limited knowledge capabilities.[12]

Environmental regulations are brazenly flouted or manipulated by corporations across the country all the time, often in connivance with corrupt regulatory officials and political leaders, and sometimes even with tacit support from misinformed or irresponsible judges in the highest courts of the country. If and when an environmental violator is finally held accountable (which itself is rather rare), significant damage to the environment has already been done and much of this is irreversible. The Bhopal gas tragedy at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal in December 1984 is only one of many such examples. In many such situations, even egregious environmental violators are let off with nothing more than a monetary fine and a verbal admonishment.[13]

Consider the story of the controversial Sterlite Copper smelter plant in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which is located very close to the eco-sensitive and extremely biodiverse Gulf of Mannar marine biosphere.[14] The UK-based Vedanta group owns the Sterlite Copper smelter plant, which was initially given a hasty environmental clearance in 1995 by the central environmental ministry. The Vedanta Group has, in the past, made huge political donations to India’s two largest political parties at the national level, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress, and this political clout seems to have clearly influenced how India’s legal and governance system responded to the environmental concerns raised by the plant over the years. The Sterlite plant, with the support of the local authorities and the central environmental ministry, continued operations for over 20 years (including commencing operations on an expansion plan to double its capacity in recent times) despite massive public protests spanning decades, regular and compelling evidence of high environmental pollution and health hazards released by civil society groups and independent researchers, and a continuous series of litigations against the company in multiple legal forums (initiated by multiple petitioners in the Madras High Court as early as 1996).

In 2010, Justice Elipe Dharmarao and Justice N. Paul Vasanthakumar of the Madras High Court ordered the closure of the plant ‘so as to protect the mother nature from being tarred’ while citing repeated violations of the law, widespread environmental pollution, and deleterious effects on public health by Sterlite.[15] Following Sterlite’s special leave petition to the Supreme Court of India challenging the said Madras High Court decision, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court judgment (ordering closure) through an interim stay order while also listing the matter for further consideration.[16] The interim stay continued for over 2 years as arguments on merits proceeded in the Supreme Court. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board wholeheartedly endorsed the Sterlite plant before the Supreme Court to the extent of recommending (in their joint inspection report submitted to the court and excerpted in the final judgment) that “the impugned order of the High Court directing closure of the plant of the appellants is liable to be set aside.”[17]

In the final judgment on the Sterlite petition that was delivered in April 2013, Justice AK Patnaik and Justice HL Gokhale of the Supreme Court reversed the Madras High Court’s 2010 decision and allowed the plant to continue operations. The court’s judgment explicitly recognizes that the plant had flouted environmental laws, had caused serious environmental damage, and that Sterlite had misrepresented and suppressed material facts in their special leave petition! The Supreme Court did fine the company Rs. 100 crore for the environmental damage that had been caused, but declined to shut down the plant given that the plant contributed substantially to copper production in India, had about 1300 employees and also provided employment to many others through contractors, contributed to 10% of the total cargo volume of Tuticorin port, and generated a huge revenue for the Central and State governments in terms of excise, custom duties, income tax and VAT. Economic considerations clearly trumped environmental justice considerations here!

The Sterlite Copper plant was finally shut down by the Tamil Nadu government in May 2018 after 11 people were killed in police firing during violent protests related to the environmental and health harms caused by the plant. Currently, the Vedanta group has petitioned the National Green Tribunal, the central environmental ministry, and the Indian Prime Minister’s Office to be permitted to reopen the plant.

Quite often, governmental agencies in India and international funding agencies such as the World Bank are primarily responsible for railroading through projects that cause extreme environmental damage and social injustice. Take for example, the highly controversial Sardar Sarovar Dam Project on the Narmada river in Gujarat, which has devastated the local environmental landscape, drawn sustained protests from environmentalists and human rights activists across India and the world, and displaced hundreds of thousands of tribal and marginalised agricultural communities.[18] The state governments of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra (initially backed by the World Bank) dealt with protests and criticisms against the project with intimidation and misinformation, misrepresented the situation on the ground before the Supreme Court of India, back-tracked on promises of resettlement and rehabilitation to the affected communities, and even today continue to proclaim the project as a great developmental achievement for India despite the numerous large-scale social and environmental injustices involved. Despite the heroic multi-decade campaign of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (a movement of tribal communities, farmers, environmental and human rights activists, artists, etc.) that included multiple petitions to the Supreme Court, environmental and social justice has not been achieved in this case.

Official environmental policy in India has developed in a piecemeal and reactive fashion, and policy formulation processes are often completely at variance with global best practices and the latest insights from the natural and social sciences. Environmental policy processes in India (for example, policies relating to rivers and hydroelectric mega-projects or policies relating to nuclear energy) are routinely criticized for being secretive, ill-planned, technocratic, anti-people and anti-democratic, top-down, and obsolete. Quite often, environmental policy processes (for example, the Environment Impact Assessment framework that governs environmental clearances at the national and state-level for a range of development projects) are systematically hijacked by corporate lobbying that seeks a continual dilution or abandonment of environmental and social justice safeguards.[19] In many other areas (for example, with regard to urban waterbodies or genetically modified foods), clear and authoritative policy prescriptions are completely missing, which thereby allows for an anything-goes scenario that perpetuates environmental and social injustices.

Determinations and declarations of sustainability in the official discourse of the Indian state are often spurious and unreliable. The central and state governments, and large corporations operating in India, are extremely secretive about environmental information relating to developmental projects. Despite some progressive judgments on access to environmental information from the Supreme Court, the National Green Tribunal and the Central Information Commission, the actual implementation of access to environmental information is almost non-existent in India. Perhaps even more serious, the quality of the existing environmental information in India is highly dubious, with little or limited government investment in sophisticated monitoring technology and systems, few trained personnel and scientific leaders in official monitoring agencies, and a scattered and piecemeal government research agenda for data-driven knowledge related to ecology and the environment.

Universities, research institutions, and the private sector in India have so far also been unable to provide consistently reliable large-scale alternatives to the secret and/or spurious official environment monitoring systems and knowledge databases. As a result of this informational ecosystem, environmental decisions in India are routinely taken on the basis of incomplete or false environmental information even as helpless communities and outraged environmental civil society organisations protest and petition the beleaguered courts and environmental tribunals for justice.[20]

Courts and environmental tribunals in India in turn are beset with problems of pendency and delay and jurisdictional confusion, a lack of competent and committed judges (barring a few honourable exceptions), an absence of a strong community of dedicated environmental lawyers, a highly polarized civil society that has not demonstrated the ability (and often lacks the necessary financial resources necessary) for broad-scale and long-term strategic environmental litigations, an incredibly reductionist, jumbled and piecemeal background array of environmental statutes and regulations, and the recalcitrance of powerful corporations and state authorities in complying with court/tribunal orders relating to environmental protection. The initial promise of the National Green Tribunal has been steadily eroded by the present central government’s concerted moves to reduce the efficacy and functioning of the tribunal.[21]

What most hagiographic accounts of environmental public interest litigations in India seem to regularly miss is that Indian courts in general have always been averse to articulating a consistently strong environmental justice or ecologically sustainable development agenda lest economic development, employment, government prerogative over policy, or ease of doing business in India, suffer. So while there undoubtedly are a number of spectacular high-profile individual environmental decisions (accompanied by lofty idealized environmental principles including the polluter-pays principle, the precautionary principle, the principle of intergenerational equity, the public trust doctrine, the principle of prior and informed consent, the principle of sustainable development, eco-centric development, the necessity of cumulative impact assessment, etc.) that have come from the courts and the environmental tribunals, India still lacks a coherent, ethical and workable environmental jurisprudence that consistently and effectively safeguards environmental and social justice.[22]

The state of public-participation in environmental decision-making in India is equally precarious. Public consultation exercises that do exist, for example, the mandatory public hearings for some kinds of developmental projects under the Environment Impact Assessment regime, are largely hurried, one-off measures, and are primarily considered by both the government and the project proponents as a formality to be completed rather than an opportunity to genuinely evaluate the proposed project in light of its potential environmental and social impact. In many other areas, despite massive environmental and social impacts, public participation in decision-making is simply not sought or considered. Violence, intimidation, misinformation, and bribery in support of a proposed project are almost always inevitable whenever there is any popular resistance to a planned project on environmental grounds.[23]

City and state police officials; pollution control boards; specialized municipal public utilities agencies including those dealing with health, education, water, electricity, parks, animal welfare, transport, and sanitation; state forest/ecology departments and a central environmental ministry; the community of environmental lawyers and environmental civil society organisations; and occasionally courts and tribunals - all of these, individually and together, sometimes despite heroic efforts by some individuals and organisations, have overall failed to safeguard the environment and the interests of resource-dependent communities in India.

Reforming the Environmental System

The record of environmental justice in India from 1947-2018 exposes the inadequacy of existing laws, policies, courts, legislatures, government administration mechanisms, and civil society networks in independent India.

It is important to note that for a long time one of the main factors responsible for a stunted campaign for environment justice in India has been the lack of a common voice (including a common paradigm, motivation, consensus, vision, platform, and vocabulary) among communities, environmentalists, scientists, educators, policy makers, lawyers, judges, artists and philosophers studying and working on environmental issues. A multitude of competing ideologies, technologies, institutional trajectories, incentives and languages have for long made it impossibly difficult to arrive at coherent and well-planned visions, policies and programs of sustainability and environmental justice in India. It seems that it is only very recently, with big data, climate change fears, and media technology saturation reaching a point of criticality, that India is suddenly, and very publicly, coming face to face with environmental crises that communities, lawyers, policy experts, political leadership, civil society groups, academia, scientists, and urban residents are finally attempting to holistically respond to.

While the overall picture for the environment and India as presented in this essay may appear bleak, I must point out that we are now just beginning to see the first wave of interesting citizen initiatives involving coordinated strategic litigations, environmental legal empowerment programs, networked citizen science systems, open data platforms, urban Internet-of-Things and satellite applications, experimental media science projects, political geography frameworks, creative governmental sustainability innovations, etc., particularly in the more modernly cosmopolitan and hi-tech Indian cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi. These new (largely urban) initiatives of course raise interesting questions of “bourgeois environmentalism” and elite bias, and this is an area that requires much more careful study before any generalizations may be possible.[24] A citizen-driven, concerted and robust environmental protection agenda at the national level in India is yet to emerge.

Coinciding with these new civil society initiatives at the regional and local levels, questions on the scope of environmental rights and environmental justice in India are now being openly and consistently raised in multilateral international fora, in courts and tribunals across India, in legislatures and executive committee meetings, in rural village councils, in public opposition to lending policies and practices of multilateral and regional organisations including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, in legal empowerment and resilience building programs, in popular media and journalistic accounts of indiscriminate displacement caused by development, and in discussions of revolutionary poetry exposing the predatory rapaciousness of the corporate-state nexus.

In the following and concluding paragraphs, I briefly suggest a tentative outline for environmental justice in India - this is more my personal wish list for an environmental justice research agenda than a manifesto or an attempt at policy declaration. Perhaps some of these ideas might be useful as we consider comprehensive legal and policy reform to bring about sustainable development and environmental justice. This is also an invitation to you to join in on a new series of conversations on environmental justice in India and across the world through forums such as the Socio-Legal Review.

Theorising environmental justice in India needs much more work on environmental and ecological federalism, community empowerment, education for sustainable development, spatial planning and area impact studies, dynamic institutional design for public participation in specific cultural and environmental contexts, institutional staffing and funding citizenship reform, social and environmental movements and campaigns, traditional knowledge, new comprehensive national and regional environmental laws and redesigned environmental policies, and on effective implementation and monitoring systems, to name a few specific areas.

India’s vision for environmental justice must be generated through well-planned deliberative processes that incorporate the most relevant learning from communities, geographers, landscape architects, policy planners, ethnographers, sociologists, environmentalists, development experts, lawyers, justice theorists, and so on. A vision for the country needs the normative consensus of the country’s residents as also fearless leadership on difficult questions implicating environmental and human rights.

A successful policy, framework or system for environmental justice in India will have to treat natural and built environments in a non-reductionist and integrated manner. Truly realising environmental justice will therefore require a deep ecological sense of resilience and sustainability, a sophisticated sense of short-term gains and long-term imperatives, and a clear identification of winners and losers of particular developmental agendas and actions. Scientific environmental data, population and ecosystem modelling scenarios, institutional and system design, and individual and collective needs, habits and values will all be equally important in considerations of environmental justice.

I propose that a good environmental justice vision for India would be one that at the minimum includes: the precautionary principle and the principle of inter-generational equity from environmental law, the social justice orientation and egalitarianism of the leading environmental justice movements from across the world (including India’s own well known Chipko movement), the sense of relation with Nature from deep ecology and eco-religions such as Jainism and Mother Goddess cults, and the fundamental duty to protect and improve the natural environment and to have compassion for all living creatures from the Constitution of India.

I think that it is critically important for us to clearly identify the different participants in the arena of environmental justice, to understand the relative winners and losers of specific and general conditions of environmental policy, and then think of the possible role that an individual, collective or institution may play in realizing a new paradigm for environmental justice in India. This would include the role of universities, schools and other seats of learning; of business; of civil society; of media; of the bureaucracy; of the judiciary; of political leadership; and of enlightened environmental citizens. The justice interests of the urban poor, of marginalised and oppressed communities, of non-human beings and environments, must feature centrally in consideration of the overall evenness or unevenness of sustainable development in India.

Environmental justice requires a careful and well-designed institutional architecture, well-trained and impartial people serving as environmental administrators, and well-functioning rules and other regulatory frameworks that enhance meaningful ecological sustainability. It has been pointed out that institutions for the environment must be multi-level, dynamic and adaptable - this certainly applies to environments and institutions in India.[25]Distributed creativity, systemic stability, and evolutionary capability augmentation - with everything informed by ethics, constitutionalism, and a convivial functional efficiency –are likely to be the key functional principles for the new institutional architecture of environmental justice.

Emerging empirical research on which environmental policy measures work, for example, heavy criminal penalties, fines, tax benefits, pollution/carbon credit trading schemes, voluntary certification programs, etc., and the contexts within which such measures work, must also inform the formulation, implementation, enforcement, and monitoring of environmental justice in India. Implementation and monitoring (and the related factors of competent and corruption-free administration) remain key challenges that must be first addressed, deliberated and somewhat successfully resolved before any grander goals of environmental justice may be truly realized.

Further, realizing environmental justice requires open access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making, and accurate data-based and evidence-based environmental policy and planning mechanisms. A robust system of environmental information collection and distribution, along with a people-centric view of public participation in environmental decision-making, constitute definite requirements for a successful approach towards environmental justice in India.

A reification and prioritisation of environmental justice agendas, such that environmental interests are not simply balanced against conflicting economic or elite social interests but are instead safeguarded and promoted to enhance overall present and future well-being and progress, will require new theorisations of ecological citizenship and rights for nature in India.

*I am grateful to Rachel Chenchiah for incisive comments on an earlier version of this essay.

Abhayraj Naik is a researcher and consultant based in Bengaluru, India. He is currently teaching a course ‘Environmental Justice: Theory and Practice’ at the National Law School of India University, and has earlier taught at Azim Premji University, OP Jindal Global University, and the Minnesota Studies in International Development: India Program. He can be contacted at


[1]See IPCC, Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15), available at:

[2] See Press Note, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA), On the current situation on air quality in NCR and actions taken and foreseen, New Delhi, 31st October, 2018, available at:

[3] Interestingly, Brazil ranks at a relatively high 69/180 after focusing on sustainability as a policy priority, and China ranks at 120/180 after making serious sustainability-focused investments in recent years.

[4] See 2018 EPI Report - Results, available at:

[5] Environmental justice - a discourse that straddles research, policy, and activism – focuses on the dynamics of justice/injustice in environment-related thinking and action. Concepts closely linked to justice, for example - equity, equality, fairness, difference, recognition, liberty, dignity and violence - necessarily get included in any analysis of environmental justice. A crude definitional attempt would be to say that environmental justice is concerned with who wins and who loses in any given environmental context, why and how this happens, why this matters to those involved and to all of us, and what can be done to change things around. Further, good environmental justice theory is attentive to questions of difference and colonialism and the multiple crises of contemporary global capitalism; some political thinkers, for example, explicitly identify the goals of green politics as striking at the very heart of our rotten, polluted, materialist, consumerist, unequal, and industrial capitalist society.

What would distinctly non-Eurocentric environmental justice agendas for India and the global South look like? The analysis here could focus on questions such as: do vulnerable people in India suffer the most from current models of development? If so, why is this and what can be done to correct the situation? How can we balance the tension between economic development and environmental protection in specific Indian geographies? What kinds of movements, campaigns, programs and projects are successful in achieving environmental justice in the distinctively Indian contexts of unstable federalism, rampant poverty, violent state action, low literacy, identity and coalition politics, endemic official corruption, poor enforcement machinery, etc.? What can we learn about law, policy and governance in India by studying distinctive environmental justice campaigns that succeeded or failed in specific contexts? What can environmental justice practitioners in India learn from the global environmental justice movement and from movements in other places in the global South?

See generally, David Schlosberg, Defining Environmental Justice - Theories, Movements, and Nature (2009); David Schlosberg, Theorising environmental justice: the expanding sphere of a discourse, 22:1 Environmental Politics (2013) 37-55.

[6] Issues and themes relating to environment and sustainability - such as air and water quality, animal rights, biodiversity, biomedicine, biopiracy, climate change, conservation of natural resources and traditional/indigenous knowledge, ecologically resilient societies, energy production and consumption, environment impact and sustainability assessments, environmental modelling, disaster management, food safety and sovereignty, mining impacts, pollution, risk analysis, sustainable cities, water access and affordability, waste generation and management, etc. - now feature centrally in key political, scientific, legal and policy debates in India and across the world. Further, the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development necessitate urgent contextual clarity on what governments, institutions, communities and individuals in India can/should do in particular situations and how to best proceed towards sustainability.

[7] See Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, available at:

[8] Gordon Walker and Harriet Bulkeley, Geographies of environmental justice, Geoforum 37 (2006) 655-659, at p. 657.

[9] David Harvey, Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference (1996), at p. 401.

[10] Michel Callon, ‘An Essay on Framing and Overflowing: Economic Externalities Revisited by Sociology’ in Michel Callon (ed.), The Laws of the Markets (Blackwell 1998) 262, cited from, Elizabeth Fisher, Environmental Law as ‘Hot’ Law, 25:3 Journal of Environmental Law (2013), at p. 348. Relatedly, Elizabeth Fisher (at page 351) also points out that “socio-political conflict, polycentricity, interdisciplinarity and scientific uncertainty are not just interesting features of environmental problems to note in passing but are part of the operational reality of the subject.”

[11] See generally, discussion on fragmentation in Dhvani Mehta, The Environmental Rule of Law in India, Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Law, Oxford University, 2017, available at:

[12]For more details on the claims made in this paragraph, see generally, Centre for Science and Environment, Strengthen institutions, reform laws and streamline processes - Agenda for improving environmental governance in India (2014), available at:

[13]For more details on the claims made in this paragraph, see generally, Shibani Ghosh, When the Court Convicted a Person for Polluting the Environment, The Wire, 3rd January 2018, available at:

[14] For some incisive background analysis, see generally, Lois Sofia, As Sterlite Plant Expands, a City Erupts in Protest, The Wire, 4th April, 2018, available at:;IlangovanRajasekaran, Saga of a struggle, Frontline, 27 April, 2018, available at:

[15] National Trust for Clean Environment v. Union of India, decision of the Madras High Court, available at:

[16] While a copy of this stay order dated 1st October 2010 has not been located at the time of writing, it appears that no express reasons were provided by the Supreme Court for initially staying the closure order of the Madras High Court. The Supreme Court continued the interim stay for over two years as arguments on the case progressed in the court. See Sterlite Industries (I) Ltd. v. Union of India, Order dated 11th October, 2011, available at: and Sterlite Industries (I) Ltd. v. Union of India, final judgment dated 2nd April, 2013, available at:

[17] See Sterlite Industries (I) Ltd. v. Union of India, final judgment dated 2nd April, 2013, available at:

[18] For some incisive background analysis, see Smita Narula, The Story of the Narmada Bachao Andolan: Human Rights in the Global Economy and the Struggle Against the World Bank, New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers (2008), available at:; DefneGonenc, The Sardar Sarovar Dam: Drowning out citizens but who benefits, 13th February, 2017, available at:

[19]For more details on the claims made in this paragraph, see generally, Leo F. Saldanha, Abhayraj Naik, Arpita Joshi and Subramanya Sastry, Green Tapism: A Review of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification - 2006 (2007).

[20]For more details on the claims made in this paragraph, see generally, Prerna Singh Bindra, India dealing with environmental crisis but govt in denial, says lawyer Ritwick Dutta, FirstPost, 18th February 2018, available at:; Samriddhi and Geetanjoy Sahu, Off the mark: National Crime Records Bureau data gives a misleading picture of environmental crime,, available at:

[21] See for example, Jayashree Nandi, Benches shut, NGT forcing petitioners to come to Delhi, The Economic Times, 26th April, 2018, available at:

[22]For more details on the claims made in this paragraph, see generally, Prashant Bhushan, Misplaced Priorities and Class Bias of the Judiciary, 44:2 Economic & Political Weekly (2009) 32-37; Naveen Thayyil, Judicial Fiats and Contemporary Enclosures, 7:4 Conservation and Society (2009) 268-282.

[23]For more details on the claims made in this paragraph, see generally, Naveen Thayyil, Public Participation in Environmental Clearances in India: Prospects for Democratic Decision-making, 56:4 Journal of the Indian Law Institute (2014) 463-492.

[24] See for example, Alexander Follman, The Role of Environmental Activists in Governing Riverscapes: The Case of the Yamuna in Delhi, India, South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [Online], 14 | 2016, available at:

[25]For more details on the claims made in this paragraph, see generally, Elinor Ostrom, Institutions and the Environment, Institute of Economic Affairs, 2008.

3,170 views0 comments


bottom of page