Among the several principles of environmental studies, preventive action is an important principle that focuses on the oft-quotes proverb, “Prevention is better than cure.”
The approach to Preventive Action can be traced back to the London Convention, named ‘Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State’, of the year 1933 (Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in Their Natural State, n.d.). This multilateral treaty was signed by 11 countries, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, South Africa, Italy, and India, among others. The basic aim of the treaty was to preserve the natural fauna and flora from exploitation and extinction across various parts of the world, particularly Africa. This was to be achieved through the establishment of National Parks and Natural Reserves, and by regulating hunting practices and collection of species for commercial purposes. All these activities point toward a Preventive Approach as flora and fauna protection is beginning early and is aimed to mitigate future concerns of extinction and irreversible damage.
Preventive Action in Conventions
The Principle of Prevention laid the foundation for the “Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal” (1989) which addressed the issue of hazardous waste and its disposal (Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, n.d.). The discharge of toxic substances into the environment needs to be reduced to an environmentally sound level, to prevent serious or irreversible damage to the ecosystem. The Convention suggests that action should be taken at an early stage before any actual harm has ensued rather than waiting to restore the damaged resources. This principle plays an important role in “laws regarding generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste and laws regulating the use of pesticides.” Additionally, the concept of Transboundary Effects was also introduced to the Principle of Prevention via the Basel Convention; this concept states that a state may be under the obligation to prevent damage within its own jurisdiction’ (General Principles Of International Environmental Law, n.d.).
Preventive Action also featured in The Stockholm Declaration on Environment (1972) where
Principle 6 and 7 of the Declaration address the actions to be undertaken by the citizens and the state towards halting the dumping of harmful substances and also necessary steps to be adopted to reduce the pollution levels (More, 2019).
The Indian context
As far as India is concerned, the Preventive Action principle has been adopted in many contexts. One such scenario is the case of Ajeet Mehta v State of Rajasthan (Mathur, n.d.). In this case, the defendant lived in a residential part of Rajasthan and was involved in the provender business. Due to his employment, he was responsible for creating pollution from the transportation and stoking of his fodder. A petition was filed against the defendant on the grounds that the inhalation of dry and burnt fodder particles was a hazard to the health of the residents living in the surrounding area. The City Magistrate acknowledged the same and ordered the defendant to stop stoking fodder and the business to be shut down. In response, the defendant filed a revision petition before the Sessions Court and the Additional Sessions Judge reversed the order thus ruling in favor of the Defendants. Thereafter another revision petition was the complainant’s wife and that judgment was in favor of the complainant. Followingly, the High Court of Rajasthan also ruled against the defendant, showing how the principle of preventive action was upheld by the state in order to prevent more damage.
In essence, preventive action as a principle lays down an important foundational pillar to the study of the environment and its conservation. It has the potential to catalyze the fight against the climate crisis as it is primarily based on the idea of acting before the damage is caused. Preventive action is crucial in addressing environmental concerns, as it wholly is intended to prevent risks of acts that may have an impact on the environment, rather than reacting after the environmentally unfriendly act has been done.
Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. (n.d.). ECOLEX. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.ecolex.org/details/treaty/basel-convention-on-the-control-of-transboundary-movements-of-hazardous-wastes-and-their-disposal-tre-001003/?q=Basel+Convention+on+the+Control+of+Transboundary+Movements+of+Hazardous+Wastes+and+their+Disposal
Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State. (n.d.). ECOLEX. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://www.ecolex.org/details/treaty/convention-relative-to-the-preservation-of-fauna-and-flora-in-their-natural-state-tre-000069/
General Principles Of International Environmental Law. (n.d.). NSUWorks. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1069&context=ilsajournal
Mathur, A. (n.d.). Smt. Ajeet Mehta And Ors. vs State Of Rajasthan And Ors. on 9 May, 1989. Indian Kanoon. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1423131/ More, H. (2019, April 9). 26 Principles of Stockholm Declaration on Environment Protection. The Fact Factor. Retrieved June 2, 2022, from https://thefactfactor.com/facts/law/civil_law/environmental_laws/stockholm-declaration/871/