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Principle of Sustainable Development

The traditional concept that development and ecology are opposed to each other is no longer acceptable. Sustainable Development is the answer. In the international sphere, Sustainable Development as a concept came to be known for the first time in the Stockholm Declaration of 1972.

Brundtland Report: Thereafter, in 1987, the concept was given a definite shape by the World Commission on Environment and Development in its report called Our Common Future. The then Prime Minister of Norway, GH Brundtland, chaired the Commission and as such, the report is popularly known as Brundtland Report.

Sustainable development: Meaning

Sustainable development is essentially a policy and strategy for continued economic and social development without detriment to the environment and natural resources on the quality of which continued activity and further development depend. The Sustainable Development is a balancing concept between ecology and development. “Sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.” — Brundtland Report

“Sustainability is defined as a characteristic or state that can be maintained indefinitely whilst development is defined as increasing the capacity to meet human needs and improve the quality of human life. What this seems to mean is to increase the efficiency of resource use in order to improve human living standards.” — Professor Ben Boer

Objectives of sustainable development

Philippe Sands in his celebrated book International Law in the field of Sustainable Development mentioned that the sustainable development requires the States to ensure that they develop and use their natural resources in a manner, which is sustainable. According to Philippe Sands, sustainable development has four objectives—

  1. Commitment to preserve natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
  2. Appropriate standards for the exploitation of natural resources based upon harvests or use which is sustainable, prudent, rational, wise or appropriate.
  3. Equitable use of natural resources, suggesting that the use by any State must take account of the needs of other States and people.
  4. Environmental considerations are integrated into economic and other development plans, programmes, and projects, and that the development needs are taken into account in applying environmental objectives.

Development should be rational

Nation’s progress largely depends on development. Therefore, the development cannot be stopped, but we need to control it rationally. No government can cope with the problem of environmental repair by itself alone. People’s voluntary participation in environmental management is necessary for sustainable development. There is a need to create environmental awareness, which may be propagated through formal and informal education. We must scientifically assess the ecological impact of various developmental schemes. In order to meet the challenge of current environmental issues, the entire globe should be considered the proper arena for environmental adjustment. Unity of mankind is not just a dream of the enlightenment, but a biophysical fact. Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs Union of India1)

Maintaining of balance between environmental protection and developmental activities

No development is possible without some adverse effect on ecology and environment and the projects of public utility cannot be abandoned. It is always necessary to adjust the interests of the people as well as to maintain environment; balance has to be struck between two interests. Where the commercial venture or enterprise would bring in results, which are far more useful for the people, difficulties of a small number of people have to be bypassed. The comparative hardship has to be balanced and the convenience and benefit to the larger section of the project has to get primacy over comparably lesser hardship.

Sustainable development, thus, in the course of economic development through industrialization, takes environment also into account and minimizes the environmental damage. Sustainable development involves changing methods in not only production and consumption to suit the sustainability of the environment, but also change in the attitude and value system. It balances the economic growth and environmental ethics, viz. shouldering greater responsibility to safeguard the natural resources and prospects of the future generation. Sustainable development can be achieved only when equilibrium is maintained, with the economic, social and environmental needs.

Case Laws

Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs Union of India

The Supreme Court in this case2) has observed that the development and environment protection must go together. There should be a balance between development and environment protection.

Bombay Dyeing & Mfg. Co. Ltd. vs Bombay Environmental Action Group

In this case3) the Supreme Court has held that while the need to protect the environment is a priority, a balance has to be drawn with the need to promote development. The harmonization of the two needs has led to the concept of sustainable development.

MC Mehta vs Union of India

In this case4) it was observed that “the balance between environmental protection and developmental activities could only be maintained by strictly following the principle of sustainable development.”


Development strategy should cater to the needs of the present without negotiating the ability of upcoming generations to satisfy their needs. The strict observance of sustainable development will put us on a path that ensures development while protecting the environment, a path that works for all peoples and for all generations. It is a guarantee to the present and a bequeath to the future. All environmental related developmental activities should benefit more people while maintaining the environmental balance. This could be ensured only by the strict adherence of sustainable development without which life of coming generations will be in jeopardy.

About the Author

Adv. Sunil Sharma is a writer for about 25 years and has authored about 40 books on various legal topics including Jurisprudence, Hindu Law and Environmental Laws.

1996 5 SCC 647
AIR 1996 SC 2715
AIR 2006 SC 1489
2002 4 SCC 356

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