Let the polluter pay

The ‘Polluter Pays’ principle was first mentioned in the recommendation of the OECD of 26th May 1972 and reaffirmed in the recommendation of 14th November 1974.

The “Polluter Pays” principle, as interpreted by the Court, means that the absolute liability for harm to the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution but also the cost of restoring the environmental degradation. Remediation of the damaged environment is part of the process of “Sustainable Development” and as such the polluter is liable to pay the cost to the individual sufferers as well as the cost of reversing the damaged ecology.

Taking this principle further, our Supreme Court laid down the ‘polluter pays’ principle which has been accepted as part of the law of the land. Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees protection of life and personal liberty.

In the landmark Vellore Citizen’s case, the Apex Court also brought in other constitutional provisions to emphasize the polluters pay principle: Article 47, 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution are as under:

Article 47 mentions of the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. Article 48A indicates the protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life. Article 51A(g) propounds to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.

Now, that the legality of the principle has been established firmly in our minds, let us spare a moment to deride the absolute lackadaisical attitude of the powers that be in our state towards the protection of environment.

We have been witness to how stale the alleged illegalities in the mining imbroglio turned with political patronage. Of course, there was mining in protected areas, which wild animals were supposed to call home. Of course, rules and environmental norms were flouted by a privileged few. And sadly, the promise of bringing the wrong doers to the book remains yet another cheque of hope that has been dishonoured.

The MV Lucky Seven running aground at Miramar beach was an ecological disaster that was about to happen. Let us ignore the fact that the vessel is owned by a powerful politician or that it was making its way into the Mandovi to be yet another casino. Let us purely put our minds to the fact that not towing it away before end of this month would greatly impair the ecological value of the most important natural landmark of the capital of Goa.

I have seen beautiful stretches of beaches – like the fag end of Sinquerim; and Quegdivelim (Reis Magos) losing themselves to the avarice of irresponsible enterprise.

It is clear that we have not learnt from history and the serious degradation caused by the submerged wreckage of River Princess on the Candolim-Sinquerim shoreline. Goans and their elected representatives went ahead with their lives as if nothing happened – for years together. It did not help make matters easy, that the owners of River Princess delayed the process of its breaking over one legal pretext or another – almost making a mockery of its original mishap.

I will not be surprised if this phenomenon repeats. The only glimmer of hope remains with the fact that the capital city is going for polls in the fourth week of this month.

Let us not forget that Goa is a tourist state – a traveller’s dream destination. Even if we do not value our natural assets for their own sake, let us do it for the sake of its enterprise value. In the days and times of unemployment, the tourism industry is feeding our youth, because of the fact that they live in beautiful Goa. The least we could do is to value what nature has given us.

We have let too many wrongdoers get away scott free and without paying for their wrongs to the environment – for the transactional value they bring to the powers that be; and also because we do not claim ownership to our natural heritage. It is time Goa asks them to repair for the damages done to our land.

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