Matter of principle

Interpreting the Precautionary Principle Edited by Timothy O' Riordon and James Cameron Earthscsan Publications Ltd £15.95

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

ENVIRONMENTAL protection has become the conscience-digging concern of mankind. It is uppermost in the minds of the planners, policy makers and legislators. It has also been the all-important preoccupation of several conferences convened at the global and regional levels.

"Precautionary principle" (pp) has been recognised as a valuable catalytic agent for promoting environmental protection and sustainable growth. pp implies taking care. It implies action being taken to protect the environment in advance of the occurrence of harm. It is based on the assumption that mankind does not have complete knowledge of the adverse effects of new technology.

The editors of the book indicate that the pp does not find support from some countries, such as Japan and the United States, partly because these countries regard it as a threat to the free market as well as to technological innovations. However, the principle appears to have been followed in enacting a number of federal environmental statutes in the US.

It appears that the adoption of the principle is a practical necessity. Its non-observance may be suicidal. It is all the more necessary in an interdependent world. The effects of environmental damage may spill over to other countries.

The precautionary principle appears to be devoid of doctrinnaire blemishes. It may be eminently suitable to be followed while enacting national legislation pertaining to environment. It also appears to commend itself as a principle of good-neighbourly relations in the field of international environmental relations. However, it may prove elusive and of limited value in concrete cases. Only future state practice may indicate the real value of this principle.

---Subhash C Jain is a joint secretary & legal advisor in the Ministry of Law, Justice & Company Affairs, government of India. The views expressed by him do not necessarily reflect those of the government of India.

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