Environmental Rule of Law in India: A Transformative Principle or Old Wine in a New Bottle

The idea of ‘environmental rule of law’ (EROL) has appeared more frequently in the Supreme Court of India’s judgements related to environmental matters since 2019. At the same time, the Supreme Court’s engagement with EROL did not trigger adequate academic engagement and critical analysis. Some of the available academic analysis of EROL predates the Supreme Court’s recent engagement with the concept. In this context, this paper provides an account of the evolution and emergence of EROL at the international level and in India, followed by a critique of it in light of the Indian Supreme Court’s engagement with it.

The paper is divided into four sections; the first section introduces the concept of EROL and engages in its conceptual analysis, the second section analyses the Supreme Court judgements which invoke EROL, and the third section engages in critical analysis of the application of EROL in India, and the final section provides the conclusion. The paper seeks to introduce the concept of EROL in light of the Supreme Court judgements; while undertaking that exercise, it adds clarity and context to the concept and touches upon the implications that follow from it. The paper highlights the limitations that arise out of the concept’s application.