Tuesday, July 2, 2013

SC:"The State is the trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment."

Recently while adjudicating CIVIL APPEAL NO.4941 OF 2013, instituted by Association for Environment Protection, the appellant against State of Kerala and others, the Division Bench of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India, has ruled with some landmark observations, in respect of the preservation of natural resources and environment as such that" Since time immemorial, people across the world have always made efforts to preserve and protect the natural resources like air, water, plants, flora and fauna. Ancient scriptures of different countries are full of stories of man’s zeal to protect the environment and ecology. Our sages and saints always preached and also taught the people to worship earth, sky, rivers, sea, plants, trees and every form of life. Majority of people still consider it as their sacred duty to protect the plants, trees, rivers, wells, etc., because it is believed that they belong to all living.The ancient Roman Empire developed a legal theory known as the “Doctrine of the Public Trust”. It was founded on the premise that certain common properties such as air, sea, water and forests are of immense importance to the people in general and they must be held by the Government as a trustee for the free and unimpeded use by the general public and it would be wholly unjustified to make them a subject of private ownership. 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 exploitation to satisfy the greed of few creatures.Although, the Constitution of India, which was enforced on 26.1.1950 did not contain any express provision for protection of environment and ecology, the people continued to treat it as their social duty to respect the nature, natural resources and protect environment and ecology. After 26 years, Article 48-A was inserted in Part IV of the Constitution and the State was burdened with the responsibility of making an endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country. By the same amendment, Fundamental Duties of the citizens were enumerated in the form of Article 51-A(Part-IV A). These include the duty to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures [Article 51-A(g)].The Courts in different jurisdictions have, time and again, invoked the public trust doctrine for giving judicial protection to environment, ecology and natural resources. This Court also recognized the importance of the public trust doctrine and applied the same in several cases for protecting natural resources which have been treated as public properties and are held by the Government as trustee of the people. The judgment in M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath (1997) 1 SCC 388 is an important milestone in the development of new jurisprudence by the Courts in this country for protection of environment. In that judgment, the Court considered the question whether a private company running tourists resort in KulluManali valley could block the flow of Beas river and create a new channel to divert the river to at least one kilometer down stream. After adverting to the theoretical and philosophical basis of the public trust doctrine and judgments,this Court observed “Our legal system — based on English common law — includes the public trust doctrine as part of its jurisprudence. The State is the trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment. Public at large is the beneficiary of the sea-shore, running waters, airs, forests and ecologically fragile lands. The State as a trustee is under a legal duty to protect the natural resources. These resources meant for public use cannot be converted into private ownership"

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