POLAVARAM DAM SAFETY AND PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLES
Human life in general is subject to several risks and so they need to deal with risks thatman-kind faces asa basic condition of human survival. Sailors on boats take life boats not because they expect wreckage but because they know it is irrational and inhuman not to be prepared for the potential dangers to their life which they might encounter during their voyage for several reasons like intense cyclones attack by sharks or failure of machinery are human errors.Thus Sailors take Precattionary measures to save themselves from both foreseeable and also unpredictible risks and such safe life is possible by following the 'precautionary principle'
Precautionary Principle is made part of the Indian Law by the Supreme Court
In the Vellore tanneries pollution case, the court has deemed the international norm of the precautionary principle as part of Indian law and considered its application mandatory in the interest of sustainable development.
As held by the Supreme Court in the Vellore tanneries pollution case:
We are however, of the view that “The Precautionary Principle” and “The Polluter Pays Principle” are essential features of “Sustainable Development.” The “Precautionary Principle” – in the context of the law – means:
· Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.
· The “onus of proof” is on the actor or the developer/industrialist to show that his action is/was environmentally benign.
· We have no hesitation in holding that the precautionary principle and the Polluter Pays Principle are part of the Environmental Law of the Country.
“ALL this slow action by authorities to control Tanneries pollution in Tamilnadu, however, belies the hopes generated by the August 28, 1996 Supreme Court order in the over 50 lakh people living along the Palar river in Vellore district. Coming down heavily on the 900-odd polluting tanneries in the six districts, the apex court imposed a fine of Rs.10,000 on each erring unit and transferred the case to the Madras High Court, directing it to constitute a Green Bench to handle all issues relating to environment and pollution.
It ordered the setting up of the Loss of Ecology Authority to assess the damage, identifying the "affected individuals, families and farms".It directed the High Court to follow the "precautionary principle" (to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation), and the "polluter pays" principle Science and technology has not only improved basic needs and comforts for human life but also contributed modern methods of preventing and controlling some of the most threatening risks of nature such as droughts, desertification and impacts of climate change. Developmental activities of man have reached a stage where man not only plans for establishment of industries and construction of irrigation and power projects but must also prevent control their damaging side effects on man and nature so that sustainable development becomes the basic foundation for all human existence. However, the emergence of increasingly unpredictable, uncertain and unquantifiable but possibly disaster risks such as those associated with nuclear energy development, climate change and big dams etc. has confronted mankind with the need to develop an anticipatory mechanism to protect man and nature against uncertain risks of human developmental activities known as the precautionary principle (PP) and this emergence of the PP has marked a shift from post damage control measures (such as civil liability as a curative tool) to the level of a pre-damage control of risks in the form of anticipatory measures for ensuring healthy growth and development. During the recent decades the PP is widely applied in the fields of sustainable development and environmental protection and it has become a widely accepted strategy to cope with scientific uncertainties in the environmental Impact Assessment and in the management of risks from developmental projects. PP is about the wisdom of action under uncertainty. Proverbs like “Look before you leap”, “Better safe than sorry” and many other folklore idioms were reflect some aspect of this wisdom and precaution always means taking timely preventive action to protect public health and environment even if against possible danger of severe damage from development projects for harnessing natural resources for the benefit of mankind. By safeguarding against serious irreversible damage to man and nature. PP builds on ethical notions of intra and inter-generational equity and it is included in the 1992 Rio declaration on Environment and development and UNESCO is constantly focusing on the ethics of the Environment, taking into account both its natural and human aspects and by offering an ethical platform to manage risks and keep the public and policy makers informed on the concept of Environment, taking into account both its natural and human aspects and by offering an ethical platform to manage risks and keep the public and policy makers informed on the concepts of Environmental responsibility and sustainable development.
For applying PP some form of scientific analysis is mandatory and the grounds that can trigger its application are limited to those concerns that are plausible or scientifically tenable (that is not easily refuted) since PP deals with risks with poorly known outcomes and poorly known probability the unquantified possibility is enough to trigger the consideration of PP. If one can quantify probabilities prevention principle is applied and risks can be managed by agreeing on acceptable risk level for the development project and taking adequate measures to keep the risk below that level. But the application of PP is limited to those hazards that are unacceptable. Interventions are required before possible harm occurs or before certainty about such harm can be achieved (that is a wait-and-see- strategy excluded) conditions that can trigger the PP need to be plausible or tenable. The hypothesis that an activity can cause harm should be consistent with background knowledge and theories. The hypothesis should be based on causative mechanisms or processes or if no causative mechanism is known atleast there should be evidence of possible statistical correlation.
Ethical Responsibility: Ethical responsibility implies some freedom of choice in action. The concept that individuals or states are morally responsible for choices they make is a crucial ethical basis of the PP. Culpable (deliberate, to blame) ignorance is one of the crucial ethical foundation of the PP and this concept has some tradition in ethics and law. It can be used in 3 ways.
1) Firstly it can be used to blame a person or a state for damage caused even if they did not know that the damage would be caused by their actions people have a moral responsibility to find out whether their action might cause damage. Ignorance is blameworthy when action is taken that is disastrous even if due to chance no damage occurs. What is to be blamed is not that one was ignorant but that he did not attempt to reduce that ignorance.
2) Secondly the concept becomes an incentive for further investigations. If ignorance about possible consequences is high one may delay action until more knowledge is available .
3) Thirdly it is used as a reason for not taking action in a certain way. A person thinks that it is impossible to know more about damaging consequences and it would be blameworthy to act on the limited poor information. This may be the case even if great benefits are lost, that is the negative consequences of not acting on significant. It reflects asymmetry between action and omission. Ignorance is culpable only if one does not use other relevant information. Failure of an old car means that owner has moral responsible to have breaks checked regularly and if it leads to an accident the owner will be accountable for it. One is morally responsible for acting to increase the resilience of the system to avoid possiblebreakdowns or disasters. Thus one may not be morally responsible for acting to increase the resilience (adjustability, adoptability) of the system to avoid possible breakdown are catastrophes.
Co-responsibility and special responsibility: In real life situations responsibilities are shared among different kinds of experts in main and related fields. Industrial or other accidents have seldom only one source of human failure and more typically htye are the result of the chain of interrelated actions and systemic technological design. In a moral context a person can be made responsible for a certain result with the extent that their actions contributed to it. A person cannot be held responsible for factors that are beyond his control or knowledge but they do have some co-responsibility for certain results to which they have contributed. A priest may take special responsibility for the care and comfort of dieing patients in a hospital by his prayers where as the scientists take special responsibility for informing the public about scientific matters. In case of PP scientists may be considered to hold a special responsibility for presenting information about the uncertainties involved in a specific decision. While few scientists or engineers are fully responsible for complex chains of events or decisions many are co-responsible and some may be specially responsible due to their professional or other role. Decision making process must revolved on the PP in considering the negative impacts that human activities may have on nature. Even if these impacts do not pose direct risk to humans because the health and integrity of eco-systems and the preservation of species is important for the wellbeing of humanity and any potential harm due to human activities that might harm these species is morally unacceptable and the interests of nature need to be taken care of in the decision making processes.
Democracy and the moral right of people: People to have a say in decision making and development projects. It is one of the ethical principles of modern democracies that parties effected by a decision should have their preferences taken into account when the decision is made. Each project proponent shall make appropriate practical and other provision for the public to participate during the preparation of plans and programmes relating to the Environment decisions that effect parties other than the decision maker should be accepted by these parties in conditions of transparent processes and with freely accessible information according to ethical principles. PP decisions should involve the participation of all those effected by development projects. Recently international law makers have been endorsing the PP in major agreements related to Environment protection. In summary PP applies when there are some scientific uncertainties while there exist scenarios of possible harm that are scientifically reasonable or plausible and potential harm is sufficiently serious or otherwise morally unacceptable and there is a need to act at the present time since effective counter measures at a later date will be made significantly more difficult or costly at any later period.
Implications for policy and governance
Putting the PP into practice requires a framework for action where several actors are called up on to contribute. It may typically require institutional change, new collaborations and new regulatory and other policy measures. Some of the typical challenges in this area are listed below.
Finding relevant expertise
In the dynamics of policy formation, the search for relevant expertise is often one of the first crucial elements of action. Experts are asked by a decision maker or government official to provide assessments of the policy options. Two pitfalls are particularly relevant here. First, there is a temptation by the one commissioning the advice to be overly specific in outlining (and thereby constraining) the assessment task. There is sometimes a tendency to frame the issue at hand in a manner that would split up the issue into several compartments and sub compartments, possibly to be addressed by several such advisory groups. Yet, in real life several parts of a problem area are typically connected to several other parts. Responses to one sub problem have reverberations on the possibility and effectiveness of other responses to other sub problems. Second, decision-makers often have a tendency to choose advisory bodies with narrow views on the needed expertise, or to draw experts from the same source as advised on earlier decisions. Precaution is, however, often of a controversial nature, and what constitutes relevant expertise is often debatable. The challenge is actually two-fold: to employ expertise of a wide variety ( for example including the social sciences and humanities) and to employ expertise that is varied within one field of expertise (for example to actively seek out alternative or dissenting expert views). Utilizing participatory instruments Precaution involves taking a stand on value sensitive issues and strategies. The weighing of possible overall costs and benefits always reflects the weight the analyst puts on the individual values and these are affected by the analyst’s choices.
Individual willingness to accept risks and risk aversion differ widely in a population and can likewise be seen as expressing varying value stances. The choices made between a variety of different possible precautionary actions reflect values and beliefs. Good decision-making processes therefore require finding a way to capture and take seriously the plurality of relevant values and interests. Experts may be authorities on the facts that enter the deliberation, but they are not necessarily experts on how different values have influenced the weighing of the options. This indicates the need to supplement the decision-making process with participatory measures of various sorts to capture the plurality of viewpoints and values that are prevalent in a society. Various such participatory instruments have already been successfully tried (for example, in technology assessment). They need to be utilized on a much broader basis and they
need to be improved and supplemented by other instruments designed for specific purposes.
Making governments accountable
Governments typically last for one or several terms of office. Those in government are often tempted to think first of all in terms of actions that may show positive results within their term of office. This is a natural consequence of the desire of a government to retain power and to have their mandate renewed at the next election. Also, new governments may often b e temp ted to revise o r overthrow t he decisions of the previous government in order to mark clear differences for the electorate. However, precaution typically implies a long-term thinking that extends beyond a term of office, sometimes far into the future. The implication of this dynamic seems to be that it is advisable that precaution should not be based on small margins of parliamentary majority and against strong social opposition. Rather, precaution seems to work best when based on a wide consensus, both within the political parties and within the social groups and partners that are affected by the policy. To strive for such consensus may be time-consuming and may not always pay off in terms of political support for the government in place. This implies the need for a change of attitude amongst political decision-makers. It needs to be recognized that a ll parties, whether in power or in opposition, share a common responsibility for the long-term good of society and that support for precautionary actions cannot fully be realized within a framework of power- and party-politics. Decision-makers need to contribute to and be made accountable for decisions and these decisions need to be justified in terms of the common good, independently of office and world view. The most effective solution is not always the simplest one.
The goal of the PP is to protect humans and the environment against uncertain risks of human action by means of pre-damage control (anticipatory measures). The PP provides a rational approach to the satisfactory and ethically justified management of uncertain risks to public health, society or environment. It aims to use the best of the ‘systems sciences’ of complex processes to make wiser decisions. The PP is to supplement, but not necessarily replace, other management strategies that fall short of being able to handle large-scale scientific uncertainty and ignorance: ‘When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm’.
Who decides on the PP? What is an appropriate decision procedure?
Since the application of the PP involves the explicit consideration of values that are affected by it, since values differ in society, the processes leading up to a final choice of action should be largely participatory and inclusive. The cultural plurality in risk attitudes varying from risk-aversion to willingness to take risks implies that the question of how society ought to deal with risks can only be answered in public debate – a debate in which people will necessarily discuss their perception of risks and risk management from different points of view and different conceptual and ethical frameworks. Only if decisions can acquire some robustness in terms of social and political acceptability do they stand a chance of being effective over time.
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