Sugathapala Mendis and another v Chandrika Kumarathunga and Others

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Background[edit]

This case does not directly deal address the issue of climate change. However, it gains special importance amongst environmental litigation as it highlights many legal principles including the doctrine public trust.

Relevant Laws and Principles[edit]

  • Article 12(1) of the Constitution - Equality before the law and equal protection of the law (Fundamental Right)
  • Article 27(4) of the Constitution - Directive Principles of State Policy - directing the State to protect, preserve and improve the environment.
  • Article 28 - Fundamental duty of every person to protect nature and conserve its riches.
  • Public Trust Doctrine and the principle of pubic purpose

It was held that 'all facets of the country its land, economic opportunities or other assets are to be handled and administered under the stringent limitations of an trusteeship posed by the Public Trust' The duty of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) as the 'autonomous body having sole discretion over conveyance of the land',to act with utmost care in weighing the benefits and negative impacts of a proposed project was commented upon. It was held that the UDA 'was under a duty to weigh with the utmost care the perceived benefits of such a development project against the significant and potentially damaging changes - the Environmental Impact Assessment Report warned of irreversible ecosystem changes and habitat fragmentation - that would have to be made to the Acquired Land, land already fit and functioning for the water retention purpose for which it was originally acquired'.