This Article is written by Mridushi Damani, a student of Hidayatullah National Law University.
The Constitution of India is known as the “basic law of the land” from which all other laws derive their sanctity or validity. Therefore, it must be a living and growing law, meaning it must be able to cope and adapt with the newer situations and development. With the passage of time and increasing realization, the need and significance for the protection of the environment and its constituents has also increased.
Thus, the Supreme Court of India in the context of environmental protection has resorted to a dynamic interpretation of the previously existent provisions of the constitution under the Fundamental Rights and Fundamental Duties and that of the Directive Principles of State Policy.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND ARTICLE 21
Upon an overview the fundamental right of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, one may assume that though it guarantees right to life and personal liberty, but does not directly confer right to clean, unpolluted and healthy environment within its scope. However, the various judicial pronouncements on various occasions have expanded the right to life and personal liberty to include this right, under various “unarticulated liberties” as recognized implicitly by Article 21.
In case of Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamla Devi, the Supreme Court declared that material resources of a community like forests, tanks, ponds, etc., are nature’s bounty. They maintain a delicate ecological balance and need to be protected for a proper and healthy environment which enables people to enjoy a quality of life which is the essence of the guaranteed right under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court decided that the pond’s land could not be allotted for a residential purpose.
Thus, recognising the right to environment as a fundamental right within Article 21, the Supreme Court in the case of M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath established that any disturbance of the basic environment elements, namely, air, water and soil, which are necessary for ‘life’, would be hazardous to ‘life’ within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court further widened the scope of the Article 21 to include various provisions of the other environmental laws, for example, provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; or the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981, within the blanket of Fundamental Right.
In the case of M.C. Mehta v. Union of India the Apex Court gave a dynamic and broad interpretation of Article 21 and while including the Right to Environment within the scope of the right to life under Article 21 stated that fundamental rights or constitutional guarantees cannot be “emasculated in their application by a narrow and constricted interpretation.”
It laid down that-
“The expression ‘life’ assured in Article 21 of the Constitution does not connote mere animal existence of the continued drudgery through life. It has a much wider meaning which includes right to livelihood, better standards of life, hygienic conditions in workplace and leisure.”
The view was upheld in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India . Thus, right to life under Article 21 means-
1) Right to live with human dignity, and
2) The quality of life as understood in its richness and fullness by the ambit of the Constitution.
It was laid down in Amarnath Shrine, re. that if the court perceives any project or activity as harmful or injurious to the environment, it would feel obliged to step in. Thus, this includes the right to environment congenial to human existence. Any activity which pollutes the environment and makes it unhealthy, hazardous to human health or health of flora and fauna, is violative of right to have “living environment”, guaranteed by Article 21.
The Supreme Court in N.D. Jayal v. Union of India declared that right to environment along with right to sustainable development is a fundamental right and is to be treated an integral part of “life” under Article 21. It was also clear that this right to development encompasses much more that economic well-being and includes within its definition the guarantee of fundamental human rights.
Similarly, in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra(RLEK) v. State of U.P., which is the first case of its kind in India involving environmental and eco-imbalance problems, RLEK had never claimed the violation of right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, but it can be inferred from the judgement that the Supreme Court entertained the environmental complaint under Article 32 of the Constitution as involving the violation of Article 21 – right to life.
The Rajasthan High Court in Suo Motu v. State of Rajasthan explained that right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution takes within its sweep right to life which is worth living, and it includes right to food, clothing and shelter and right to decent environment including right to live in clean city.
Thus, establishing the right to environment as a fundamental right under the scope of Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution.
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AND ARTICLE 51A(g)
Article 51-A(g) of the Indian Constitution confers one of the fundament duties to protect and improve the natural environment. It provides that
“Article 51-A. – It shall be the duty of every citizen Of India —
(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
In Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra v. State of U.P., the Supreme Court clarified that preservation of the environment and keeping the ecological balance unaffected is a task which not only governments but also every citizen must undertake. It is as a matter of fact a social obligation and along with being a fundamental duty which has been enshrined in Article 51-A(g) of the Constitution.
It has also explained that abovementioned Articles, i.e. 51A(g) are not only of a fundamental nature in the governance of the country but it is also a duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws; and further these two Articles are to be kept in mind in understanding the scope and purport of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution including Articles 14, 19 and 21 and also the various other legislations which have been enacted by Parliament and the State Legislatures.
In the case of T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, the court observed that eco-centric approach finds its place in Article 51-A (g) which “stresses the moral imperatives to respect intrinsic value, interdependence and integrity of all forms of life.
In M.C. Mehta v. State of Orissa the Orissa High Court observed that Articles 48-A and 51-A(g) lay down the foundation for the jurisprudence of environmental protection obligating the State and citizens alike to protect and improve the environment.
The Supreme Court in the case of K. Guruprasad Rao v. State of Karnataka, with regards to mining rights declared that environment and ecology are national assets which are subject to inter-generational equity. The court ordered to suspend all the mining activities which took place in the area on the grounds of sustainable development principle which is a part of Articles 21 and 51-A(g) of the Constitution of India.
Through the establishment and inclusion of the Principle of Sustainable Development, under Articles 21, 48-A and 51-A(g) of the Constitution, the Supreme Court not only established the significance Right to environment but also established the future generation’s right to the same.
Further, in M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, the Supreme Court declared that 51-A(g) has to be considered in the light of Article 21 of the Constitution which provides that no person shall be deprived of his right to life and liberty except in accordance with the procedure which has been established by the law. The Court held that any sort of disturbance of the basic environment elements, such as, air, or, water or, soil, which are necessary for “life”, would be hazardous to “life” within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution, thus establishing the right to environment under Article 51A(g) of the Constitution.
To conclude it can be said that constitutional scheme to protect, improve and establish the Right to environment has been provided under Articles 21 and 51-A(g) of the Indian Constitution which the Supreme Court through the dynamic interpretation of the said Articles has rightfully recognised as well as established as one of the quintessential rights of the Indian Constitution. Thus, making both, the State and the citizens under a constitutional obligation to protect and improve the environment.
- Shyam Divan and Armin Rosencranz, Environmental Law and Policy in India, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2005.
- P Leelakrishnan, Environmental Law in India, (2nd), Lexis Nexis, New Delhi, 2005 Available at :https://hnlu.ac.in/up/Exam/Syllabus-Special_Repeat,Oct.-2013/Sem-IV_Batch_IX(April2011)/Environmental_Law.pdf
- C. Shastri, Environmental Law, (2nd Edn.), Eastern Book Company, Lucknow, 2005.
- Shantakumar, Introduction to Environmental Law, (2nd Edn.), Wadhwa & Company, Nagpur, 2005.
- Maheshwara Swamy, Textbook on Environmental Law, (2nd), Asia Law House, Hyderabad, 2008.
- Hinch Lal Tiwari v. Kamla Devi, (2006) 6 SCC 496.
- C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, (2000) 6 SCC 213.
- C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1987 SC 1086
- Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India, AIR 1995 SC 922.
- Amarnath Shrine, re, (2013) 3 SCC 247.
- D. Jayal v. Union of India, 2003 Supp(3) SCR 152.
- Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra(RLEK) v. State of U.P., 1985 AIR 652.
- Suo Motu v. State of Rajasthan
- N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, (2012) 4 SCC 362.
- C. Mehta v. State of Orissa, AIR 1992 Ori 225.
- Guruprasad Rao v. State of Karnataka, (2013) 8 SCC 418.