Polluter Pays Principle: Everything about PPP

13 Oct 2022  Read 15851 Views

If a disaster occurs, then whose liability is it to compensate? The expression "polluter pays principle" has gained popularity recently. This slogan's main concept is "If you make a mess, it's your responsibility to clean it up." It should be noted that the "polluter pays principle" does not apply to "fault" in environmental law. Instead, it advocates a treatment approach that prioritises undoing ecological harm. According to a principle of international environmental law, the polluting party is responsible for any environmental damage caused. So, let’s discuss this in detail in this article.

Historical Background

According to the World Commission on Environment and Degradation's study, Our Common Future, an enterprise can internalise the expense of restoring the environment. Internalisation refers to the polluter bearing the costs directly rather than assigning the task to an agency. According to the report, the company would be urged to spend money on taking preventive, restorative, and compensatory actions. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted the "polluter pay" principle in 1972. According to the study, the polluter is in charge of limiting and preventing pollution caused by the factory's operations. The World Commission on Environment and Development quickly recognised pollutants as waste. Therefore, the spread of contaminants into the environment was seen as inefficiency of industrial production. The "polluter pays principle" was implemented to control the pollution issue as a powerful economic, administrative, and legal weapon.

PPP in India

The polluter pays principle is included in Indian Jurisprudence and is regarded as the most significant element of environmental law. According to Indian law, the "polluter pays" principle covers the direct expenses to those harmed by the pollution and the costs to the environment and the property. According to the Supreme Court, "the polluter is liable to pay the cost to the individual sufferers as well as the cost of reversing the damaged ecosystem" since "remediation of the damaged environment is a component of the process of sustainable development."

In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1986), the Supreme Court applied the polluter-pays theory. It said that the Indian government needs to enact more laws to address the emerging issues due to a highly industrialised economy. In this case, a company named Delhi Cloth Mill Limited had a subsidiary business called Shriram Food and Fertilizer, which made caustic chlorine and oleum in a plant surrounded by a substantial amount of people. A court case was filed to address the problem and control and regulate this impact. In this decision, the Supreme Court established the strict liability concept, which states that anyone who engages in risky or intrinsically harmful actions and maintains such substances is responsible for compensating those harmed or otherwise impacted by it. This rule only applies to non-natural users of land, not those that occur naturally or as a result of an Act of God. The court further emphasised that if a business engages in a hazardous industry, it must ensure the health and safety of those working in the factories and those living nearby where all these dangerous activities occur.

Landmark Cases on Polluters Pay Principle

1. Indian council for Enviro-Legal Action v. UOI (1996)

The Court held that regardless of whether a person used reasonable caution while engaging in a hazardous or fundamentally risky activity, that person is still liable for any losses made to a third party due to those activities. The rule is based on the critical characteristics of the activity being engaged in.

2. Vellore Citizen’s welfare Forum v. UOI (1996)

The Polluter Pays Principle was interpreted by the Court to entail that the expense of reversing environmental degradation and compensation for pollution victims are included in the absolute liability for harm to the environment. The "Sustainable Development" process includes remediation of the damaged environment; therefore, the polluter is responsible for both the costs associated with compensating the affected individuals and the costs associated with repairing the damaged ecology. According to the court, both the precautionary principle and the polluter pay principle are embedded in environmental law and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Articles 48-A and 51-G of the Constitution require that the environment be improved and safeguarded.

3. MC Mehta v. Kamal Nath & Ors. (1997)

The court held that pollution constituted a civil wrong and a tort against the entire community. To restore the ecosystem and ecology, anyone guilty of producing pollution must pay damages (compensation). According to the Polluter Pays Principle, it is not the responsibility of the government to cover the costs associated with either preventing such damage or taking remedial action because doing so would pass the cost of the pollution incident onto the taxpayers.

4. Trail Smelter Case (United States v. Canada)

The United States (P) sued Canada for damages and requested an injunction for air pollution in the state of Washington caused by the Trail Smelter, a Canadian firm with Canadian citizenship (D). the issue arose was whether it is the responsibility of the state to protect other states against dangerous acts by the people of that jurisdiction to which Court affirmed that it is indeed the responsibility of the state by applying the principle of Polluter pays.


According to the "polluter pays" principle, anyone who causes pollution should be held financially responsible for its harm to the environment and humans. Polluter pays a principle of environmental law widely accepted in India and has been used to achieve justice in numerous cases. In contrast, this principle is being used differently in a different way in the United States, such as through taxation. This idea is applied in both nations to guard against pollution and the degradation of the environment's quality.

About the Author: Gurpreet Kaur Dutta | 82 Post(s)

A legal content writer who pursued BBA-LL.B.(H) from Amity University Chhattisgarh. She has a keen interest in corporate and IPR sectors. 

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