People have right to clean air, water: Supreme Court on Vedanta's Tamil Nadu plant closure [7.3.2024]

People have a right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live a life free from disease and sickness, the Supreme Court has said, while upholding the principle of sustainable development and coming down hard on polluting industries.

In a reasoned order on the closure of the Vedanta group firm Sterlite Copper in Tamil Nadu's Thoothukudi, a bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud said closure of industry is not a matter of first choice but the nature of violations by the unit and repeated and severe breaches of environmental norms would have left neither the statutory authorities nor the Madras High Court with the option to take any other view unless they were to be oblivious of their plain duty.

The bench, also comprising Justices JB Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, had on February 29 dismissed an appeal of Vedanta Ltd. against the high court order upholding the closure of the copper smelting plant, closed since May 2018 over pollution concerns.

"It is an undeniable and fundamental truth that all persons have the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, live a life free from disease and sickness, and for those who till the earth, have access to uncontaminated soil," the apex court said.

It said these rights are not only recognised as essential components of human rights but are also enshrined in various international treaties and agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Agreement.

"As such, they must be protected and upheld by governments and institutions worldwide, even as we generate employment and industry. The ultimate aim of all our endeavours is for all people to be able to live 'the good life'. Without these basic rights, increased revenue and employment cease to have any real meaning. It is not merely about economic growth but about ensuring the well-being and dignity of every individual," the bench said.

The court said it is conscious of the fact that the unit has been contributing to the productive assets of the nation and providing employment and revenue in the area.

07 Mar 2024