Should we Adopt Polluters pay model

“If anyone intentionally spoils the water of another, let him not only pay damages, but purify the stream or cistern which contains the water.”

– Plato


Environment has always been a favorite topic of UPSC. The NGT order said any person found dumping debris on the river bank at the Geeta Colony site or any other site will have to cough up Rs. 5 lakh for causing pollution. The offender will also have to remove the debris. With this Landmark decision The way we look at environmental challenges have been changed.


The polluter pays principle is deeply rooted in legal systems but it came to be explicitly discussed in relation to environmental harms by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development in the 1970s and 80s. Finally, in 1992, it was adopted by the international community in Principle 16 of the Rio Declaration. In India, the courts have been at the forefront of making the principle work – they have repeatedly imposed costs and fines to try and ensure that polluters do not escape the responsibility of paying compensation and cleaning up.

Philosophy behind polluter pays pinciple

  1. The basic idea behind it is sustainable development
  2. Greenhouse gas emission cause potential harm and damage through impact on climate
  3. Slow recognition of link between greenhouse gases and climate change by society
  4. Atmosphere is Global Common, emitters are not held responsible for controlling pollution
  5. Promotes economic efficiency, social justice, harmonization of environmental policies
  6. Remediation is part of process of sustainable development, polluters are liable to pay not only the cost the sufferers but also the cost of reversing the damaged ecology

Indian experience

    1. MC Mehta Oleum Gas Leak case: The Supreme Court laid down the rule of absolute liability which essentially states that a person would be wholly responsible for any mishap caused by their “hazardous or inherently dangerous” enterprise, which in this case was a chlorine plant. The apex court noted that the polluter’s liability would depend on their ability to pay – thus using the principle to both clean up the environmental damage and to punish the polluter.
    2. Bichhri Case: the Court noted that the polluter would need to pay for cleaning up the damage as well as compensate those harmed by the pollution.
    3. Vellore Citizens case, the Court highlighted that the polluter pays principle was implied in the Constitutional provisions protecting the environment as well as in the various Acts concerning the environment.
    4. In the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, it was stated that the NGT would decide cases based on the polluter pays principle.
    5. The NGT have rule that any person found dumping debris in the Yamuna River will have to cough up Rs. 5 lakh for causing pollution. The offender will also have to remove the debris.


    1. Environmental pollution is not always easy to narrow down to a single source which can be strictly punished. Thus, identifying a perpetrator is both difficult and in some cases, technically not feasible.
    2. There is no clarity on how exactly the damages should be calculated. This means that a polluter may be asked to pay for the actual costs of clean-up, the damage caused to the victims of environmental damage, a fine or a penalty based on their ability to pay, a general levy aimed at a clean-up of the problem as a whole, or all of the above.
    3. Deciding the compensation and identifying the affected are very difficult tasks.
    4. Polluter may not be able to pay high compensations due to poor his/her financial background.
    5. Common people will not be ready to sue big multinational companies.

Way forward/suggestions

    1. Imposing a cost on emissions of Greenhouse Gases.
    2. Financial incentive to small and marginal industries to reduce their emissions
    3. A fund can be created like the CAMPA from the penalties, to compensate victims and restore the environment.
    4. Carbon Price is a good strategy to implement the Polluters Pay Principle.
    5. Carbon Price should be uniform across the countries and there should not be any ‘Carbon Havens’.
    6. Penalties should be increased in their degrees over the time.


It is good that India that imbibed the Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) in their Law of land. And, it also had actually helped in imposing damages on the polluter but still the problem with this principle is that it hasn’t been implemented properly. If we look at the exemplary damages granted to span motels doesn’t serve the purpose of the exemplary damages. Ten lakhs rupees is nothing for the big corporations like span motels.

For them at least 10 crores Rs. exemplary damages should be given. And again if we look at the penalty imposed in the Vellore Citizens case, then it just shocks me that how 10,000 rupees can justify the pollution spreaded by the tanneries in the nearby areas. The Author personally feels that this is not an effective way of fund raising. We should reconsider the criteria’s laid to decide the compensation amount. At least it should deter the polluters from spreading pollution. This principle needs a strict interpretation from our judiciary with immediate effect and we just can’t afford any sort of delay in its proper implementation in developing country, like India.


    1. What do you understand by polluters pay principle? What is the significance of such ideas in the current situation in the world, especially India?
    2. Recent verdict by NGT on Yamuna Pollution have the basis in Polluter Pays Principle. Critically analyze the relevance of the philosophy.


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