This case dealt with the ecological and social implications of commercial shrimp farming in India. The traditional rice/shrimp rotating acqua culture system previously used by Indian fishermen had began to give way to more intensive methods of shrimp culture which could produce thousands of kilograms per hectare. A large number of private companies and multi-national corporations had started investing in shrimp farms. Within a few years more than eighty thousand hectares of land had been converted to shrimp farming. A high investment return and expanding market was expected by replacing the environmentally benign traditional mode of culture by semi-intensive and intensive methods.
The petitioner sought the enforcement of a coastal zone regulation notification issued by the Government of India, stoppage of intensive and semi-intensive type of prawn farming in the ecologically fragile coastal areas, prohibition to use wet lands for Prawn farming and the constitution of a National Coastal Management Authority to safeguard the marine life and coastal areas.
The Supreme Court analyzed several national and international studies on the ecological and social implications of commercial shrimp farming. It took into account the issues of loss of agricultural land and mangroves, obstruction of natural drains, salinisation, destruction of natural seed resources, use of drugs and chemicals, extraction of groundwater and loss of biodiversity, among others. The court emphasized that the new trend of more intensified shrimp farming - without much control of feeds, seeds and other inputs and water management practices - had brought to the fore a serious threat to the environment and ecology. Agricultural lands were being converted into commercial aquaculture farms, which had caused unemployment to the landless labourers and also loss of cultivable land.
Sustainable development should be the guiding principle for the shrimp aquaculture. The industry had to develop under the unified motto of environment and development. There had to be an environmental impact assessment also taking into account the social impact on different population strata in the area before permission was granted to install commercial shrimp farms. It also had to take into consideration the inter-generational equity and the compensation for those who were affected and prejudiced.
The court therefore directed, inter alia, that the Central Government had to constitute an authority with all the powers necessary to protect the ecologically fragile coastal areas. The authority had to implement "the Precautionary Principle" and "the Polluter Pays" principles. No shrimp culture pond as defined in the coastal zone regulation notification could be constructed or set up within the coastal regulation zone. This direction did not apply to traditional types of technologies. All shrimp culture industries operating in the coastal regulation zone as defined under the notification had to be demolished. The agricultural lands, salt pan lands, mangroves, wet lands, forest lands, could not be converted for construction of shrimp culture ponds. Shrimp culture industry other than traditional and improved traditional could be set up outside the coastal regulation zone as defined by the notification with the prior approval of the authority mentioned above. The authority had to assess the loss to the ecology and had to assess the compensation to individuals/families who had suffered because of the pollution.