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Delhi High Court seeks status report from Centre on plea to ensure UNFCCC commitments are kept

The Delhi High Court has sought a status report from the Union of India on a plea seeking for the setting up of an expert-led committee for ensuring compliance with commitments made by India at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2021 to reduce carbon footprint.

A bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice Navin Chawla issued notice and directed the respondents to file their reply within four weeks and list the matter for further hearing on July 27, 2022.

A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed by Rohit Madan through Advocate Akshay R.

According to the PIL, India had made certain commitments before the UNFCCC in 2021 to reduce carbon footprint. These targets include long-term, mid-term, and short-term targets. These pledges form part of and are in pursuance of the Paris Agreement to which India is also a signatory. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to reduce the rise in global average temperature to below 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. India’s commitments and targets are also in pursuance of the same.

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The said commitments are as follows:

• Reach 500GW non-fossil capacity by 2030;

• 50°C energy requirements from renewable by 2030;

• Reduction of total projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tonnes j from now to 2030;

• Reduction of the carbon intensity of the economy by 45% by 2030, over 2005 levels; and

• Achieving the target of net zero emissions by 2070.

The petitioner submitted that the principle of comity of nations is enshrined in Art 51(c) of the Constitution of India i.e. fostering respect for international treaties. The Supreme Court in the case of Commr. of Customs, Sir vis GM Exports and ors. (2016) 1 SCC 91 interpreted Art 51(c) such that international treaties not contrary to domestic laws also are made applicable to India irrespective of whether India is a signatory or not. Further, the Supreme Court in Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum vs Union of India and ors (1996) 5 SCC 647 while dealing with Environment Protection Act 1986 held that principles accepted as customary international law should be accepted as a part of domestic laws. Applying the said ratio, Paris Agreement and its resultant commitments bind the Indian government.

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Further, the commitments made also ensure a better environment that involves clean air, water, and other resources which form part of the fundamental rights of citizens under Article 21 of the Constitution as held by the Supreme Court in the case of Subash Kumar vis State of Bihar 1991 SCR (1) 5.

The petitioner further submitted that these commitments were made before a formal international forum of which India is a member and a signatory. These commitments involve a shift to renewable and green energy from current coal-based energy. All businesses in India will have to adjust to their practices, and make necessary changes anticipating the shift. Hence, the State is bound by the promises it made and must deliver on the same.

It is stated in the PIL that data of the past seven decades shows that the executive has been lackadaisical in adapting to this shift. Time and again, it has been proven that unless the Top Courts step in, there can be no scope for alleviating pollution and reducing carbon footprint at all stakeholders’ level including industries, railways, government, citizens, etc.

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That the petitioner adverts to the following Grounds:-

A. BECAUSE the Indian Government has a duty to honour international commitments and accordingly bring Legislations as done with the Stockholm Conference and resultant Legislations and the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

B. BECAUSE India is a signatory to the Paris Agreement.

C. BECAUSE Art. 51 (c) of the Constitution Of India calls for the Indian State to foster respect for International law and treaty obligations.

D. BECAUSE the Supreme Court in the case of Commr.of Customs, Sir v/s GM Exports and ors. (2016) 1 SCC 91 interpreted Art 51 (c) such that international treaties not contrary to, domestic laws also are made applicable to India irrespective of whether India is a signatory or not.

E. BECAUSE the Supreme Court in Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum vIs Union of India and ors (1996) 5 SCC 647 while dealing with Environment Protection Act 1986 held that principles accepted as customary international law should be accepted as a part of domestic laws.

F. BECAUSE the Paris Agreement is not detrimental to Indian law. On the contrary, it supplants and supports Indian environmental jurisprudence. Hence, applying the ratio of the aforementioned judgements, the Paris Agreement shall be binding on India.

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G. BECAUSE the commitments made also ensure a better environment that involves clean air, water, and other resources which form part of the Fundamental Right of citizens under Art. 21 of the constitution as held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Subash Kumar vIs State of Bihar 1991 SCR (1) 5.

H. BECAUSE the State has given a commitment and a promise to the effect for the betterment of a Fundamental Right and is hence bound by the Doctrine of Promissory Estoppel as laid down by the Supreme Court in State of Punjab vIs Nestle India Ltd. and ors. [2004] Supp. (3) SCR 135.

I. BECAUSE these promises/commitments were made in a formal forum like the United Nations and hence it creates a legitimate expectation in the minds of people in India, in particular, and in the world, in general.

J. BECAUSE as a result of the promises made, the businesses and other institutions in the country would have to adapt accordingly to the changes they anticipate.

K. BECAUSE a review of the aforementioned commitments reveal that time lines have been set under various categories for the year 2030. To meet such a deadline, which is only 8 years away, groundwork needs to be laid down immediately and a coordinated action has to be undertaken by various departments of Government of India.

L. BECAUSE data from PRS Legislative shows that the past 7 decades show that fossil based energy continues to dominate our power needs. In view of the commitment made by India to reduce its carbon footprint by 2030 by 50% and. reduce the energy consumption and dependency through fossil fuel by 2030, a clear roadmap needs to be prepared now considering the fact that fossil fuels still dominate our energy needs.

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M. BECAUSE time and again, the Courts have had to step in to protect the environment. If the Courts do not step in at this juncture, then the deadlines would never be met and inevitably an extension would be sought. The resultant commitments would then be lost with the efflux of time.

N. BECAUSE the USA and other countries have not only set targets, but they are also providing a roadmap to achieve the goals.

O. BECAUSE as per PRS Legislative data, about 12.5% of the deaths i.e. 12.4 lakh deaths till 2017 were attributed to air pollution. If the Courts do not interfere at this stage, then more lives would be lost to pollution. P. BECAUSE the interference of this Court was warranted in . the issue of Solid Waste Management.

Q. BECAUSE this Court has the power to form a committee to get into the issues as has already been done in the case of Gauri Grover and Ors. vIs GNCTD [W.P. (C) no. 8917/2015 decided on 14.03.2018].

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