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Economic considerations in determination of liability: case analysis of stubble burning and air pollution in Delhi

Student name: Ms Mansi Bachani
Guide: Dr Manish Kumar Shrivastava
Year of completion: 2020


My Dissertation aims to accentuate the conditions associated with failure or success of Air pollution normative frameworks in the country. The study pursues an in-depth examination of the issues raised in the recently decided M.C. Mehta stubble burning case by the Apex Court. Resolution of Air pollution faces impediments created by the spatial and temporal nature of Air as a resource, limited administrative capability to deal with inter-state externalities and lack of adequate, quantified information due to the spatial dispersion of costs and benefits. Additionally, developing countries face the unique dilemma of heterogenous socio-economic conditions that constrains them from imposing punitive aspects of liability mechanisms like the Polluter Pay’s Principle.

The research first looks into the federal governance framework of air pollution in India. A fundamental characteristic determining the failure or success of federal mechanism has been the underlying nature, scope and rationale for the tilt towards centralisation or devolution of powers, responsibilities. The goal is to provide an insight into what framework of federalism is well-equipped to resolve environmental externalities, especially when there are multivariate and spatial distribution of polluters.

Any analysis of responsibility will be incomplete without adequate deliberation on the liability parameters that ensure one does not get away with dereliction of duty. The research herein highlights the incorporation of the Polluter Pay’s Principle and its effectiveness in furthering equitable, effective adjudication of costs by the one who engages in the harmful activity. However, its application is tainted with numerous uncertainties when there is limited information to ascertain the identity of the polluter given multivariate sources and activities of pollution. Further, constraining factors of the polluter’s socio-economic background are bound to disrupt the equitability and corrective justice concerns that PPP aims to pursue.

This Dissertation seeks to contribute theoretically by adding on to the growing literature on liability dimensions of the polluter pay’s principle and its enforcement. After examination of the available material and resources, the study concludes that regional cooperation at the administrative level to bring in clarity in roles and cooperative action for furthering smooth implementation of policies.