The Delhi Pollution Case: Can the Supreme Court Manage the Environment?

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Courtesy of IOS Press

Judicial activism in the Indian Supreme Court has cre- ated major reforms in the protection of human rights and has put the Court in a unique position to intervene when it sees violations of these fundamental rights. But the Court’s eagerness to right societal wrongs can lead it to take deci- sions that are within the province of executive agencies. By usurping the role of agencies and directing policies through its orders, the Court risks making decisions that may ultimately harm the nation. In 1998, the Indian Supreme Court, embracing its ac- tivist role, made a controversial order mandating the con- version of the entire Delhi fleet of diesel-powered buses to compressed natural gas (CNG).1 Steadfast resistance from the agencies responsible for enforcing the court or- der has raised serious questions about the wisdom of this decision. Many opponents have disputed the reliability and practicality of CNG, arguing that the technology is still in development, making the conversion both risky and costly. Others, especially civil society groups, argue that CNG is an optimum low polluting fuel, and a shift to CNG should take place at once.

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