Construction Law International – July 2023 – Country Updates: India
India’s 2030 goals: a sustainable and technologically sound construction nation
Legacy Law Offices, New Delhi, India
As a developing country with the second largest population in the world, India is arguably highly dependent on construction. According to the submission made by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of India to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dated November 2022, the nation’s buildings account for 40 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption, with such energy use expected to increase at an annual rate of eight per cent. The MoEFCC further predicts the development and construction of over 900 million square metres of residential and commercial space across India over the next few years.
Owing to such substantial figures, the Government of India has shifted its focus towards energy efficiency in all sectors, including particularly the field of construction. While the country has always been supportive of the UNFCCC principles and the terms of the Paris Convention, India’s enforcement and promotion has increased to a high degree over the last few years. During the 27th UN Conference of Parties (COP27). The Indian representative presented its long-term low emission development strategy and confirmed India’s intention to reduce greenhouse gases.
It may therefore be evident that, while energy efficiency is a long-term goal, India has started to take steps to attain substantial energy efficiency by the year 2030. In the area of construction, this goal can only be attained by implementing practices of sustainable construction by various methods including adapting to the latest technology.
Sustainable construction: legal perspective
Sustainable construction, as the name suggests, is a process of adopting resource-efficient construction techniques to conserve essential elements of the ecosystem such as air, water, forests, etc. It promotes the rational use and management of natural building resources to reduce energy consumption and improve the quality of the environment. Benefits of sustainable development practices in the context of India are manifold, including a reduction in greenhouse gases and a substantial increase in the longevity of the ecosystem.
In India, the laws of sustainable construction are based on the three primary principles of environmental law: the Polluter Pays Principle, the Precautionary Principle, and the Intergenerational Equity Principle. In Lafarge Union Mining (P) Ltd v Union of India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India opined that:
‘It cannot be gainsaid that utilisation of the environment and its natural resources has to be in a way that is consistent with the principles of sustainable development and intergenerational equity, but balancing these activities may entail policy choices.’
Furthermore, in the case of Rajeev Suri v Delhi Development Authority & Ors, the Hon’ble Court held that:
‘The principle of sustainable development and precautionary principle need to be understood in a proper context. The expression “sustainable development” incorporates a wide meaning within its fold. It contemplates that development ought to be sustainable with the idea of preservation of natural environment for present and future generations. It would not be without significance to note that sustainable development is indeed a principle of development – it posits controlled development. The primary requirement underlying this principle is to ensure that every development work is sustainable; and this requirement of sustainability demands that the first attempt of every agency enforcing environmental rule of law in the country ought to be to alleviate environmental concerns by proper mitigating measures.’
In the recent case of T N Godavarman Thirumulpad v Union of India & Ors, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that:
‘Adherence to the principle of sustainable development is a constitutional requirement. While applying the principle of sustainable development one must bear in mind that development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, Courts are required to balance development needs with the protection of the environment and ecology.’
In addition to these principles guiding all environmental laws, including those concerning construction, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency has developed the Energy Conservation Building Code, 2017 (ECBC), with the primary objective of improving energy efficiency in new commercial buildings. This Code has undergone two revisions, with the most recent one being in 2021, and has been adopted by the majority of Indian states. The latest adoption of the ECBC was in Tamil Nadu on 29 December 2022, owing to the launch of Tamil Nadu’s Climate Action Plan. According to the UNFCCC submission, the countrywide implementation of the Code will lead to a 50 per cent reduction in commercial building energy use by 2030. The ECBC was also recognised in the 2017 UN Global Status Report, which stated that the Code is expected to encourage building designs featuring renewable energy systems.
Other than the Code, construction activities are also currently regulated by various programmes, initiatives and plans which seek to establish an emission-free ‘Green India’.
Construction and technology
In its ‘sustainable urbanisation strategy’ presented before the UNFCCC, MoEFCC submitted a plan of using new and emergent technologies and materials in building construction, including ICT (information and communication technology) and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) tools for streamlining efficient municipal service delivery, which will in turn reduce costs of the technologies for their use in other sectors. By making use of such modern technologies coupled with the implementation of sustainable methods of construction, India may be able to attain its goal of reducing carbon emissions well in advance of its projected year.
ICT and SCADA are known to be the two most effective methods through which construction can be brought into the world of technology. While the former method merely means the use of certain techniques including drones and 3D modelling, SCADA, on the other hand, is a complex software and hardware system which uses PLCs and remote terminal units to show real time development in the industrial sector (building site), and to interact with the machines on the construction site. These technologies have the potential to reduce carbon emissions in the construction sector.
Recent developments have also increased the possibility of introducing artificial intelligence in construction practices. Contractors may use machine learning to assess project risks, construction risks as well as environmental risks without spending a substantial amount of capital.
Therefore, while the present investment of the real estate and construction sector in the field of technology is considerably low, even the slightest increase may result in a more sustainable and energy efficient infrastructure and construction development in India.
Imagination is the genesis of infrastructural development. Without imagination and creativity, it would have been impossible to lay out mesmerising structures in the first place. However, since the construction industry utilises several natural resources, it becomes indirectly responsible for their overuse, misuse or exploitation.
The UN Conference of the Parties (COP27) aimed at encouraging and guiding countries to take effective action to counter climate change and depletion of natural resources. The introduction of the Clean Construction Accelerator during the Conference was a significant improvement aiming to support countries in finding ways to accelerate the shift of the construction sector towards a more sustainable outcome. Owing to the projected increase and India’s current share in the global construction sector, its stance during the Conference, followed by various positive steps towards attaining energy efficiency and reduction of the carbon footprint has provided a positive inference towards sustainable development.
In fact, in view of the recent designation of India’s G20 presidency, the nation has emphasised its priority towards climate change mitigation and the technological transformation in infrastructure. India’s intention to concentrate on sustainable construction methods has therefore been brought into the spotlight.
By combining such use of sustainable construction methods with modern technology, India may be able to attain its 2030 goals of decreasing carbon emissions to a significant degree and thereafter attaining its 2070 goal of zero carbon emissions.
Progressive human activities cannot take place without deriving environmental benefits. Similarly, the construction sector uses prominent natural resources such as coal, water and energy, resulting in carbon emissions, waste generation and energy consumption, making it essential to incorporate provisions of sustainability within the framework to conserve and protect the environment, even if this requires keeping up with the latest developments in technology.
 Lafarge Union Mining (P) Ltd v Union of India, (2011) 7 SCC 338.
 Rajeev Suri v Delhi Development Authority & Ors, 2021 SCC Online 7.
 T N Godavarman Thirumulpad v Union of India & Ors, (2022) 9 SCC 306.
Gagan Anand is an Advocate and Managing Partner of Legacy Law Offices in New Delhi and can be contacted at email@example.com.