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The Environment and Industrialisation
by Justice Markandey Katju*
Cite as : (2002) PL WebJour 8

A large number of cases are coming in our courts (through PILs) relating to protection of the environment. Therefore, a clear philosophy is required for Judges as to how to deal with such cases as conflicting views are sometimes expressed. I am presenting my own view in this matter.

The basic aim for our country must be to make India a powerful, modern State, and that is only possible by rapid industrialization.

Today the real world is cruel and harsh. It respects power, not poverty or weakness. The truth is that Indians, despite being intelligent and industrious people, are not respected by Westerners, not because our skin is brown or black in colour, but because our country is poor. When the Chinese and Japanese were poor people they were derisively called "yellow" races by Westerners, but today they are industrialized and powerful nations, and now nobody dares to call them that. Similarly, if we wish to get respect in the world community we must make our country highly industrialized and prosperous. Also, industrialization alone can generate the wealth we require for taking care of the welfare of our people, as is the mandate of the directive principles in our Constitution.

What we are witnessing of late in our country, however, is the emphasis on protecting the environment at the expense of industrialization. In the name of protecting the environment hundreds and thousands of industries have been closed down in and around Delhi, Agra and other places, by administrative decisions or court orders. People who took loans and had set up these industries have been ruined (many of them have committed suicide). Hundreds of thousands of workers have been thrown out of employment, and they, along with their wives and children are driven to destitution. Are such workers and their wives and children not human beings, these people who have been hurled into starvation, beggary and crime in the name of protecting the environment?

In seminars, newspaper articles, books, court cases (PILs) etc. the constant refrain is of protecting the environment, and hardly any thought is given about the need for rapid industrialization. We seem to have lost our sense of priorities. It has become the fashion nowadays to talk about the environment, and everyone seems to have forgotten the basic goal of our country, that is to make India a modern, powerful, highly industrialized and prosperous country. The implicit message which seems to be conveyed is that the environment must be protected, even if that has to be done by closing down our industries. The impression sought to be created is that there is an imbalance in our country between man and nature because there has been too much industrialization, though the truth is that there has been too little industrialization in India, and not too much.

I submit that the whole approach of the environment enthusiasts is wrong. Nobody can dispute the need for protecting the environment. After all, people are entitled to pure air and water, forests have to be protected for ensuring regular rainfall and preventing soil erosion, wildlife has to be protected for maintaining ecological balance etc. But what is overlooked is that protection of the environment is incidental to industrialization. In other words, if we industrialize we will be compelled to protect the environment and there is no conflict between industrialization and environment protection.

For example, if industries are set up there will be workers' colonies which must get pure air and water etc. If workers are not given pure air and water they will fall sick, and thereby the functioning of the factory will be adversely affected. Moreover, since workers are now no longer isolated like peasants, but are usually organized in trade unions, they will not tolerate inhuman working conditions (as prevalent in England up to the middle of the 19th century), but will agitate against it (by strikes, demonstrations etc.) and this too will disrupt the smooth functioning of the factory. Hence the Government and the employers will have to ensure humane working conditions and a good environment for the workers.

Thus, industrialization itself ensures a good environment. For instance, in Western countries, which are industrialized, the rivers are clean, the air has little pollution etc. The factories and motorcars in North America and Europe have to be fitted with pollution-avoidance devices to meet the high standards of pollution control fixed by the authorities. The forests and wildlife in these countries are carefully preserved by experts trained scientifically. A factory-owner in Western countries cannot grease the palm of the pollution inspectors and continue polluting the air and water, as it happens in our country. People in Western countries are fined heavily if they throw litter and garbage on the road or public places, while in our country's cities, one can see garbage and litter lying everywhere.

Industrialization not only creates the wealth necessary for preserving and protecting the environment, it also creates the modern mind in which protecting the environment is instilled since childhood. Parents in Western countries teach their children that they must not throw litter anywhere except in the public bins established for this purpose. When one takes a dog for a walk in any Western city, and the dog excretes on the road or park, the owner must pick up the excreta (with a paper or whatever) and throw it in the bin set up for this purpose, otherwise he is fined.

Thus, the very mindset of Westerners is towards protection of the environment, and this is because they are highly industrialized.

I am not trying to say that we should not care for the environment. We should certainly not let certain unscrupulous businessmen discharge toxic effluents into our rivers or hazardous fumes into the atmosphere. We should not let greedy forest contractors destroy our forests and ecology. We must certainly place restrictions and regulations for protecting the environment. But at the same time a balance has to be struck. This obsession about the environment, to my mind, has gone to such an extent in our country that we are destroying our industries in the name of protecting the environment. This is also increasing unemployment by making more people jobless.

If industries emitting pollutants have been set up in residential areas they should certainly be shifted to non-residential areas, but this should be done in a carefully phased manner (after consulting representatives of workers and businessmen likely to be affected) without uprooting the workers and making them unemployed. Unfortunately this approach has not been adopted, and instead we have resorted to police methods of suddenly closing down industries in many areas, in the name of protecting the environment. The result has been that many businessmen have committed suicide, and lakhs of workers have become unemployed.

My submission therefore is that the entire philosophy in this connection needs to be reviewed in the light of what has been stated above.

No doubt Article 48-A of the Constitution states "the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country", and Article 51-A(g) makes it a fundamental duty of all citizens to protect forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife etc.

However, these provisions have to be read along with the basic objective of the country, that is to make India a powerful, highly industrialized and modern State. Our main aim must be to rapidly industrialize, and protection of environment must be regarded as only incidental to this main aim and not itself the main aim. Unless we are industrialized, we will never get respect in the comity of nations and will not be able to promote the welfare of our people (because we will not be able to generate the wealth for this purpose) as required by Article 38 of the Constitution. Without industrialization our people shall also not be able to get work, education, unemployment and sickness benefits, and other public assistance as required by Article 41 of the Constitution, because all these require huge resources and funds which can only be generated by a high degree of industrialization. We shall also not be able to give a living wage to workers as required by Article 43 of the Constitution.

A basic problem today is the rising unemployment in our country. The young people in our society are facing a dark future. For every vacancy there are a thousand or more applicants. This is increasing crime. It is rapid industrialization alone which can solve the problem by creating jobs on a large scale. Closing down industries in the name of protecting the environment is only going to worsen the situation.

I conclude by repeating once again that the principal aim of our country must be to rapidly industrialize so as to make India a powerful modern industrial State, and environment protection must be treated as only incidental to industrialization, and not as opposed to it or overriding it.

When Judges decide PILs relating to the environment, I request that they consider the above suggestions.

*       Judge, Allahabad High Court. Return to Text

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