Existence of a healthy life is insurmountable without a healthful and vigorous environment. It would not be too far-fetched to mention that a clean environment is absolutely indispensable to not only the physical growth of an individual but to their psychological and intellectual growth as well. The worsening of the environmental quality is not only alarming for posing a threat to the lives of the present generation but the future generations as well. It is the responsibility of the State to ensure a healthy living environment to its citizens.
Before tracing the relationship between Fundamental rights and the right to environment, it is imperative to mention Article 48A and Article 51A(g) which were added to the Constitution by the Forty second constitutional amendment to Part IV and Part IVA respectively, specifically for the protection of environment.
Article 48A states that ‘The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard forests and wildlife of the country.’
Article 51A(g) states that ‘It is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures of the country.’
Even though Right to environment has not been specifically mentioned or been provided in Part 3 of the Constitution, which deals with fundamental rights, but over the years, by several judicial decisions to develop the environmental jurisprudence, the Supreme Court has taken into account that Article 21, Article 19 and Article 14 are responsible for the protection of the environment.
According to Principle 1 of Stockholm declaration, ‘Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.’ By the judicial decisions taken in relation with Article 14, 19 and 21, the Supreme Court ensured that the abovementioned Principle is maintained and thereby fulfilled.
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees Right to Life and states that ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedures established by law.’ The scope of Article 21 was widened by Supreme Court to include Right to environment within its ambit. Furthermore, Right to environment includes: Right to wholesome environment and Right to livelihood of people. Where Right to live in a healthy environment was first recognized by the Apex Court in Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of U.P (AIR 1985 SC 652), the right to livelihood was recognized in Olga Teliis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (AIR 1986 SC 180). The right to wholesome environment, in a nutshell refers to the inherent right of an individual to lead a life of dignity in an unpolluted environment. This right was interpreted by the Indian judiciary in three phases:
- Phase 1- Approach of the Supreme Court till 1980
In Phase 1, no explicit reference was made to Article 48A. However, it is noteworthy to mention that the Supreme Court did entertain writs which were filed in the Court under Article 32, which grants a right to the citizens to move the Supreme Court for the enforcement of Fundamental rights granted in Part III of the Constitution. Several writs were filed citing the infringement of Article 21 under Article 32.
Important Case laws:
- Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of U.P.
- Shriram Gas Leak Case
- Ganga Tanneries Case
- Phase 2- Approach of the High Court from mid-1980’s till present
The High Courts of India interpreted Article 21 in quite a direct manner. They clearly mentioned that the Right to environment was an inherent part of Right to life.
Important Case Laws:
- T. Damodhar Rao v. Special Officer Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad.
- Attakoya Thangal v. Union of India
- F.K Hussain v. Union of India
- Phase 3- Approach of the Supreme Court from 1980 onwards
In Phase 3, following several consequent judicial pronouncements, the Supreme Court finally came to the conclusion that right to environment is a part of Article 21.
Important case laws:
- Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar
- M.C Mehta v. Kamal Nath
- T.N Godavarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India
Right to livelihood involves the inherent right of the people to not be displaced or dislocated from their place of living due to inconsiderate actions of the government. This right usually revolves around the loss of people’s livelihoods due to construction of dams. Especially in the last few decades, since the Governments have been inspired by a developmental spree, a lot of citizens, especially people belonging to tribes or mainly the ones who dwell in forests are the ones who had to quite unwillingly give up their lands and have protested against this.
Article 14 states: ‘The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.’ This article aims to put an end to the arbitrary and discriminatory actions of the State since these actions violate the concept of equality. Article 14 has not been as famously invoked as Article 21, neither by the Apex Court, nor by the High Courts. Article 14 has mostly been invoked in cases which deal with mining activities and which are terribly harmful to the environment.
For instance, it was invoked in General Public of Saproon Valley v. State of H.P, where limestone mining in Saproon Valley led to run-down fields and a deterioration in the environment quality, pollution, deforestation, soil erosion. The administration was directed by the High Court to adopt measures so that while the development continued, the ecology could also be protected and a failure to comply with the directions would result in a violation of rights conferred by Article 14 and Article 21.
Freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of press is granted to the citizens of India by Article 19(1)(a). It would not be far-fetched to say that the filing of PIL’s (Public Interest Litigation) has played an eminent role in shaping the jurisprudence related to environment. The development of environmental rules and regulations can be attributed to the citizens exercising their right to freedom and expression by voicing out their criticism over the violation of their fundamental rights. Moreover, the freedom given to press has insured that it imparts impartial knowledge to the public about the environmental problems. Press has the power to sculpt the popular opinion about the woes of environmental issues and it has diligently played its role.
In the case of P.A Jacob v. Superintendent of Police, Kottayam, the Court made a note to hold that Article 19(1)(a) prevents noise pollution caused by loud speakers and that freedom of speech and expression does not in any way imply or include a freedom to use loud speakers in public.
Article 19(1)(g) grants the citizens the right to practice any profession or occupation which they wish to. However, this right is subject to restrictions as provided under Article 19(6) and in context of environmental issues, the environment can be protected by businesses which cause its degradation. The Court has reiterated in a plethora of decisions that no such business activities will be permitted to be continued if they cause environmental hazards. Article 19(1)(g) has been invoked in cases involving the careless discharge of untreated effluent water in water bodies or in public drainage systems, cases involving the maintenance of ecosystem being threatened by business practices, releasing of poisonous gaseous substances in the atmosphere.
Important Case Laws:
- M.C Mehta v. Union of India
- S. Jagannath v. Union of India
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