Polluter Pay Principle

Explored the core of the Polluter Pay Principle in this article, uncovering its essential role in holding individuals accountable for their environmental impact

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The Polluter Pays Principle: An Essential Paradigm for Environmental Responsibilities

By: Tanya Sachdeva

1. Introduction

Every coin has two sides to it. There are advantages and disadvantages of the industrial revolution. On the one hand industrial revolution has improved the people’s lives in many ways in the 21st century but on the other hand, it has caused industrial pollution. By the invention of Technology, the obsolete products are being replaced by the manufactured products. Hence the principle such as precautionary principle and polluter pays principle are being introduced to curb the environmental degradation . The consequence of industrial disasters can persist for an extended period with instance such as Bhopal gas tragedy and Chernobyl nuclear disaster.Environment issue are of paramount concern which demands careful attention .

The polluter pays principle (PPP)stand out as vital concept in the ever growing concern for environmental sustainability. It tries to address the environmental externalities generated by human activities. This approach is based on the idea that polluter should incur the cost of controlling and mitigating pollution. This principle has gained international recognition during 1972 United Nation Conference on the human environment in Stockholm, where the need to internalise environmental cost was emphasised. The polluter pays principle is defined as an economic rule of cost allocation whose sources lies precisely in the theory of externalities ,requiring the polluter to take responsibility for the external cost arising from the pollution.[1]

2. What is Polluter pays principle

The polluter pays principle is the commonly accepted practice that those who produce pollution should bear the cost of managing it to prevent the damage to human health or the environment . For instance, A factory that produces a potentially poisonous substance as a by-products of its activities is usually held responsible for its safe disposal. The PPP is a part of a set of broader principles to guide sustainable development worldwide[2].

3. History and Evolution of the PPP

The first notable reference to the To polluter pays principle was in 1972 in The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guiding principle concerning international economic aspects of environmental policies. According to OECD guiding principle the polluter pay principle is a tool for allocating cost of pollution prevention and control measures.

Policy makers can use this principle to curb pollution and restore the environment by applying it, polluters are incentivized to avoid environmental damage and are held responsible for the pollution that they cause. In the economic terms this constitutes the “Internalization of negative environmental externalities” when the cost of pollution are charged to the polluter the price of goods and services increases to include these cost.

In 1992, UN declaration on environment and development included the PPTP as one of the 27 guiding principles for future sustainable development.

The European Community now I also articulated the application of polluter pay principal progressively. In 1973, with the programme of action on the environment since 1987 the PPP has been part of European law.[3]

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, established during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, include the principle that those who cause pollution or environmental harm should bear the associated costs.

PRINCIPLE 16:- National authorities should endeavour to promote the internalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution, with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment [4].

4. Polluter pay principle in context of India

The Supreme Court held that the polluter pays principle means that the absolute liability of harm to the environment extends not only to compensate the victim of the pollution, but also to the cost of restoring the environmental degradation. Remediation of the damaged environment is a part of the process of sustainable development.[5]

Case laws related to PPP

(1) Indian council for environmental legal action v. Union of India 2011

In this case the idea of polluter pay principal was applied first time in India the court has defined the approach and its scope. According to this principle the polluter has to compensate the victim of pollution caused by his activity and also pay for the damages it has caused to the environment.

The court applied polluter pay principle in this case. The court ruled that “once the activity carried on is hazardous or inherently dangerous; the person carrying on such activity is liable to make good the loss caused to any other person by his activity irrespective of the fact whether he took reasonable care while carrying on his activity. The rule is premised upon the very nature of the activity carried on”.[6]

(2) Vellore citizen’s welfare forum v. Union of India 1996[7]

This petition – public interest – under Article 32 of the Constitution of India has been filed by Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum and is directed against the pollution which is being caused by enormous discharge of untreated effluent by the tanneries and other industries in the State of Tamil Nadu.

The precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle have been accepted as part of the law of the land. Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees protection of life and personal liberty. Articles 47, 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution are as under:

Article 47 Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and in particular, The State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.

 48A. (g) Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life. The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.

51A(g) To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, takes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

(3) M.C Mehta v. Union of India 1986

This case is established the concept of absolute liability principle which holds the industries strictly liable for harm caused by their activities.It has laid foundation for Indian environmental jurisprudence and also put light on precautionary and polluter pays principle.

The court held that :- Precautionary principle has been accepted as the part of law of land. Article 21,47,48 A, and 51A (g) of the constitution of India give a clear mandate to the state to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country .The precautionary principle makes it mandatory for the state government to anticipate, prevent, and attack the causes of the environment degradation. [8]

5. Benefits and flaws of the polluter pays principle

This principle is very important tool to get away with the further degradation of the environment and also by implementing the polluter pays principle it has reduced the level of emission thus helps in reducing the cost of the pollution .PPP is a valuable tool as it held firms accountable for the loss of the pollution they have generated, to pay the compensation and further invest in the cleaner technology.

It also enhances the economic efficiency as it helps in protecting the environment .

It is very true that polluter pays principle has many positive effect to reduce the pollution. Most of the developing countries have not yet enrolled them to polluter pay principal as a main environmental policy guideline and There are many loopholes to this rule:-

• The ambiguity still exists in finding who is a polluter. The factor to this vagueness is multiple contributors to the pollution. Another factor would be that the entities may indirectly contribute to pollution through their supply chains.

• The significant hurdle associated with PPP is the potential of industries to transfer the financial burden imposed by environmental regulation to customers. This lead to large number of population with limited resources because of increased prices for goods and services.

• A fundamental barrier to PPP is the difficulty in ensuring that regulations are obeyed and fines are enforced particularly in the places with the weak regulatory powers. In the places lacking with strong regulatory power, ensuring compliance with PPP standards becomes difficult.

6. Conclusion

The polluter pay principle is a useful environmental policy tool because it assigns responsibility for environmental harm to who contribute it. The burden is not being shifted to any other person who does not did anything. This further promote sustainability and incentivising cleaner practices. While implementation may be difficult the principle remains an important component in the pursuit of more environmental conscious society

By imposing financial penalties on polluters the PPP promotes a shift towards greener technologies and practices. This principle helps in ensuring environmental sustainability.


1. Nicolas de Sadeleer Environmental Principles :- From political slogans to legal Rules (Oxford University press, 2nd edition)

2. What is polluter pay principle at https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-is-the-polluter-pays-principle/ on 16 Nov 2023

3. History of the principle at https://academic.oup.com/book/27830/chapter-abstract/198131559?redirectedFrom=fulltext on 17 Nov 2023

4. Rio declaration on environment and development at https://www.cbd.int/doc/ref/rio-declaration.shtml on 18 nov 2023

5.Enviro-legal- Actions vs. Union of India others , 1996 AIR 1446, SCC(3)212

6. Supra note 5

7. Vellore citizen’s welfare forum vs. UOI, 1996 5SCC 647,28 Aug 1996

8. M.C Mehta vs UOI ors , 1987 AIR 965,1986 SCR (1)312