Bad environment cannot be good economics: Supreme Court judge

Sofi Ahsan
At the Global Law Conference in Chandigarh University on Saturday. (Express photo)

Questioning the model of sustainable development in India, Supreme Court judge, Justice Deepak Gupta Saturday said that bad environment can never be good economics.

“Bad environment can never be good economics. It is only in a healthy environment that there can be a good economy. More damage has been done in the name of sustainable development than benefit. Sustainable development meant that you will bring in such industry and development that does not cause harm to the environment or where it can be re-compensated in real terms,” Justice Gupta said.

He was addressing the inaugural function of Global Law Conference in Chandigarh University here.

Directly addressing Union Minister for Railways, Industries and Commerce, Piyush Goyal, who was also present, Justice Gupta also delved into the issue of compensatory afforestation and added that money can be no compensation for the environment. “Yes, we need industries and mines, since growth of the country is also linked to it, but at the same time, our plans for compulsory afforestation have been ridiculously low. The figures would be less than 10 per cent of the actual proposed afforestation,” he said. “When there is development, there is always going to be a conflict. But if two views are possible, then the view in favour of environment must prevail.”

Addressing the audience, he said when the health of the common man is affected “because of the smog and all this”, the government has to put in more money into the healthcare. “It impacts the economy,” he said, adding that he sometimes wonders why the judiciary should get involved in the matter.

“It is not our job. But then, when I look back, had there been no T N Godavarman case, there would have been no forests in this country. Had there been no M C Mehta case, the air pollution would (have created) a disaster,” he added.

Referring to the air pollution in the National Capital, Justice Gupta said that an application on his phone informs him that he is “smoking 16 cigarettes a day in Delhi” while the number is “three cigarettes a day in Chandigarh”.

“We have become so immune to the damage caused to the environment that an AQI of 200 seems really good. It is only when it crosses 400 or 500 mark that we start getting worried,” he said, adding that were were yet to realise how the climate change will affect us. “To the deniers of climate change, all I can say is that you are denying what is in front of you.”

Adding an environmental aspect to the issue of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), Justice Gupta said the temperature rise will also lead to more immigration from countries such as Bangladesh. He added that the biggest sufferers are not going to be the US or Europe, but the Sub-Saharan region and South East Asia.

“I am not going into the political aspect or judicial aspect of the NRC but we are worried about immigration from other countries. If the temperature worldwide rises by more than 2 degrees, our coastal areas will be inundated. There will be a huge inundation in Bangladesh and those people will have no other option but to again move towards India for sustenance. When damage occurs to the environment, it hits the poorest first,” he said.

Stressing on the need for sensitization, Justice Gupta said it has to be done by all concerned - from the government and judiciary, to academicians, students, and anybody who is involved with conservation and preservation of the environment. “We have enough laws in country, our problem is the lack of enforcement and regulation.” he added.

Later, Justice Siddharth Mridul of Delhi High Court, addressing a technical session on climate change said he will not talk about PM 2.5 or PM 10 and the AQI “which was hovering in the vicinity of 500”. He, however, added that the pollution was so thick that the one “can cut it with a knife”.