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  • Writer's pictureRitik Agrawal


Updated: Jan 16

Author: Adv. Sapna Desai

The Bar Association , Hubli

“The adage that living things are products of their environments is true. A positive environment fosters overall personality development, while a negative environment prevents it. Both directly and indirectly, it has an impact on living things. Environmental issues are quite complicated. That's science. In management, we are. It's a rule. One must grasp the fundamentals of ecology and the actions that have been done, are being taken, and should be taken for this purpose in order to prevent environmental contamination, conserve the environment, and maintain its health.”

Dr. H. N. Tiwari


In light of the present state of affairs, environmental protection in India has been elevated to the level of a fundamental law in the nation, in addition to having already been accorded this status. As a direct consequence of this, the idea that every individual possesses the inherent right to exist with complete human dignity in an atmosphere free from pollution is now widely accepted. Within the context of India, the circumstance is as described above. According to a decision handed down by India's highest court, the environmental laws that are currently in force across the country incorporate essential aspects of sustainable development. These aspects include, amongst others, the "polluter pays principle" and the "precautionary principle."[i]The Constitution of India mandates that both the "state" and its "citizens" are responsible for protecting and improving the country's natural resources. The Indian Constitution places this duty on every citizen. A number of pro-environmental provisions are written into India's Constitution of India, and similar measures have been adopted by other nations. Some countries that fall into this category include South Africa. Similar to the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution, environmental protections can be found in South Africa's founding document.

In India, the government has enacted a number of regulations that are intended to shield the natural world from the effects of human activity. In addition to the many Constitutional provisions, the Indian Parliament has enacted a large number of legislative measures in order to fulfill the Constitution of India obligation of ensuring a healthy environment for citizens of India. The “Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981, and the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974” are a few examples of these types of laws. The Indian Legal Code from 1860 has a number of clauses that emphasize the criminal penalties that apply when someone is hurt as a result of environmental damage that was caused by another person. In addition, there are a wide variety of common law remedies for the protection of the environment. Some of these include strict liability, carelessness, trespass, and nuisance.


It's not easy to pin down exactly what "environment" means. The typical interpretation has to do with the surrounding environment. The meaning of the notion changes depending on what it is that is being encompassed by it. Because of this, it encompasses almost everything. Many of life's fundamental requirements can be satisfied or even generated from the surrounding environment. It is an expression with a very wide amplitude since it takes into consideration all of the things that have some kind of direct or indirect influence on the natural environment in which humans live. In point of fact, the tie between man and his environment is so tight that man is an abstraction apart from it; in actuality, such a being could not exist. As a matter of fact, Albert Einstein once made the observation that "the environment is everything that is not myself."

An organism or an ecological community is said to have a complex environment if it is surrounded by a variety of complex physical, chemical, and biological elements. These elements act on and interact with a variety of species or organisms to have an effect on how they look, how much they grow, and whether or not they survive. Therefore, the environment consists of the air, water, and land that we have available. The environment is composed of three distinct types of elements: abiotic elements, which are non-living objects like soil, air, and water; biotic components, which refer to living things like plants and animals, including humans; and anthropogenic components. and The energy component, which includes things like solar energy, geothermal energy, nuclear atomic energy, and the energy caused by radiation, among other things, that contributes to the preservation of the actual life of creatures.

The environment can also be broken down into two distinct categories. The first form of environment is one that is natural. In this type of environment, any change that occurs in the system as a result of natural processing is counterbalanced by changes that occur in the other aspects of the environment. The process for this kind of environment is referred to as a homeostatic environment. The second type of environment is one that has been built by humans. This type of environment includes things like the industrial revolution, communication networks such as the telephone and telex, agricultural equipment, satellites, and various forms of energy such as thermal and hydro energy. The word "environment" encompasses all of the biotic and abiotic factors that influence the survival and development of a given organism, population, or ecological community. The organisms themselves, the food that they eat, and the interactions between them are all examples of biotic factors. Abiotic factors are things like sunshine, soil, air, water, climate, and pollution that do not come from living organisms. Evolutionary changes in both structure and behavior can occur in organisms as a response to shifts in the environment in which they live.


a commitment on a global level to preserve and enhance our natural surroundings is unequivocally enunciated in the chapter on fundamental obligations of the DPSP, which follows from the fact that they are fundamental duties. "It is now widely accepted as a principle of law that the right to live in an unpolluted environment is one of the most fundamental rights that a citizen possesses."[ii] "In its judicial declarations, the SC has declared that the "precautionary principle" and the "polluter pay principle" are part of the law of the land.″[iii]

Before the 42nd Amendment, the term "environment" did not appear anywhere in the Indian Constitution the Indian Republic. This Amendment introduced Art. 48-A to the list of DPSP, and Art. 51-A added a replacement provision to the list of sorts of fundamental duties. Both of these changes were made as a result of this Amendment. “The state shall Endeavor to preserve and improve the environment and to safeguard the woods and wildlife of the country,” it says in Art. 48-A. “the state shall Endeavor to guard and improve the environment.”

In accordance with paragraph (g) of Art. 51-A, “it shall be the obligation of each citizen of India to guard and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and animals and to possess compassion for living creatures.”

The Honorable SC of India stated in the case of “Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs. State of UP”[iv]that protecting the environment is not only a responsibility that falls on the state as outlined in Art. 48-A of the Indian Constitution, but that protecting the environment is also a responsibility that falls on the citizens of India as outlined in Art. 51-A (g) of the Indian Constitution. This was stated in the case. At the time the Constitution of India was written, the essential duties that it outlined could not be immediately enforced. However, as time went on and more interpretation was given, the essential stimulation was provided to help fulfill the goal that was driving the adoption of a fundamental obligation into the Constitution of India for the purpose of protecting the environment. The scope of Art. 51-A was dissected by the court in the case “L. K. Koolwal vs. State of Rajasthan and Others”[v]. It is true that “according to Paragraph (g) of Art. 51-A, of the Constitution of India, it is the duty of the citizen to protect the environment; however, this text also creates a right in favor of the citizen to move to court for the enforcement of Paragraph (g) of Art. 51-A of the Constitution of India. This right exists to ensure that the Constitution of India is carried out in its intended manner (g).”

In “M.C. Mehta vs. State of Orissa”[vi], the court made the observation that there is no such thing as a right without a corresponding duty. If there is contamination in the environment, this will have a significant impact on the people' ability to live a healthy life, and as a result, this is a breach of the citizens' fundamental rights. As a result, it is the responsibility of each individual citizen to ensure that the state is living up to its legal obligations in order to protect the rights that are guaranteed to them by the Constitution of India. In the case “AIIMS Students' Union vs. AIIMS and Ors.”[vii], the SC made the observation that “despite the fact that fundamental duties are not enforceable by the court of law, it nevertheless provides significant guidance for the interpretation of Constitution of India provisions for the protection of the environment.” This was said in the context of the case. Additionally, the court emphasized the importance of giving fundamental duties their full meaning in accordance with the objectives of the 42nd Constitution amendment. In cases where the court is asked to give effect to DPSP and fundamental rights, it cannot avoid doing so by arguing that priorities are a matter of policy. This is so because the onus of proof rests entirely on the court's shoulders.

The fundamental rights are covered in the part III of the Constitution. The right to one's own life is discussed in Art. 21. This right would be devoid of any significance if the citizens did not live in a healthy environment in which to exercise it. In M.C. Mehta vs.UOI[viii]SC has decided that individuals have a protected right under Art. 21 of the Constitution to live in an environment that is free from pollution. In the case of “Subhash Kumar vs. State of Bihar”[ix], the Honorable SC ruled that “the right to life, as outlined in Art. 21, includes the right to the enjoyment of water and air that are free from pollution.” In the case of “P.A. Jacob vs. Superintendent of Police, Kottayam”[x], the court decided that it would be an infringement of an individual's fundamental rights to force someone against their will to be exposed to disastrous levels of noise pollution. This decision was made in accordance with Art. 21 of the Constitution of India of India.

Art. 14, 19, and 21 of our Constitution, in turn, protect “the right to equality, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to life and individual liberty”. These Articles effectively condense the first principal of the “Stockholm Declaration”, which states that all people should be entitled to the same legal protections and civil liberties.[xi]The “anti-humanitarian effects of industrial and environmental hazards” are seen as a widespread and intentional infringement of the most basic human rights, rather than as an inevitable part of the modern industrial system.This viewpoint is held by the Permanent People's Tribunal. This point of view receives additional support from the fact that the Permanent People's Commission was established by the people, for the people. A person has the right to their own life, health, expression, and organization, as well as the right to receive justice. This is one of the most fundamental rights.[xii]Part III of the Indian Constitution of India, which is dedicated to protecting fundamental rights, includes all of these rights in its provisions. A Constitution of India provision is never static; rather, it is ever developing and ever changing. As a result, it does not allow of being approached in a manner that is narrow, pedantic, or syllogistic. The purpose of the fundamental rights is to ensure that they are upheld from one generation to the next. The parts III and IV, which deal with “fundamental rights and directive principles”, are mutually supportive and enhancing of one another. The overarching purpose of fundamental rights, which must be interpreted in the context of directive principles because they are based on those principles, is to realize the objectives that are outlined in those principles.[xiii]It is possible for a right to be acknowledged as a fundamental right even if the Constitution of India does not specifically reference the right in question. Judicial innovation in India has been at the forefront of interpreting a variety of fundamental rights that are not specifically named in Part III of the Constitution of India. As a result, we can conclude that there are a great number of unnamed fundamental rights in Part III.[xiv]

Looking after the planet correctly is one of them. Although the right to a healthy environment is only explicitly stated in the part dealing with “DPSP and Fundamental Duties”, this right has been interpreted by the courts to be included in a number of provisions in Part III dealing with fundamental rights. This is due to the fact that it is only in the chapter outlining mandatory guidelines and primary responsibilities that any concrete rules are laid out. Because of this, the Indian judicial system has publicly endorsed a strategy that puts human rights protection ahead of environmental protection.



Art. 21 ensures that everyone has the fundamental right to survive, and not just any life, but a life that is lived with dignity, in an appropriate setting, and free from the threat of disease and infection. The truth that there is a strong connection between living things and their surroundings is something that is common knowledge among all of us. The right to life would be devoid of all significance in the absence of a wholesome natural environment. The right to exist in a healthy environment has been elevated to the most sacred part of the human rights canon as a result of judicial interpretation. In M.C. Mehta vs.UOI,[xv]it was held thatArt. 21 of the Constitution of India outlines an individual's fundamental right to life, and the SC has inferred that this right includes the right to exist in an environment that is free from pollution.


As a consequence of judicial interpretation that has broadened the scope and application of Art. 21, the phrase "right to life" now includes the phrase "right to livelihood." This expansion of Art. 21's scope and application has occurred. In accordance with Art. 21 of the “Declaration of Human Rights”, the capacity to earn one's living is considered as an essential component of the right to life. This expansive interpretation is extremely helpful because it serves as a check on actions taken by the government that are detrimental to the environment and put the way of life of the economically disadvantaged in jeopardy, either by compelling them to leave their homes or by preventing them from accessing their means of subsistence in some other way. The significance of this clarification cannot be overstated. Over the course of the last few years, a substantial number of individuals have participated in protests directed against the building of major dams. This is due to the fact that the construction of these dams typically necessitates the relocation of thousands of native people and other people who live in the jungle, depriving them of their primary means of subsistence in the process.


According to Article 19(1), everyone has the right to freedom of opinion (a). The majority of India's environmental law stems from judicial rulings. Public interest litigation (PIL) describes the vast majority of cases filed before the court. In these instances, citizens have used their First Amendment rights to petition the court or write letters to the newspaper calling attention to the fact that their right to a safe and healthy environment has been violated.


In addition, the “Right to Know” is not explicitly stated in Art. 19(1)(a), but it does have a close connection to Art. 21. This is especially true in environmental matters, where secret decisions made by the government may have an effect on people's health, life, and ability to make a living. Access to information, also known as the "right to know," is one of the fundamental liberties to which the citizens of a democratic nation like India strive. The credibility of democratically elected governments is undermined by a culture of secrecy.


Every citizen has the right, as stated in Art. 19(1)(g), "to practice any profession, or to carry on any employment, trade, or business." However, this advantage of being a citizen does not come without any conditions attached to it. Insofar as it is deemed essential to do so in order to safeguard the general public interest, reasonable restrictions may be imposed in accordance with Art. 19 of the Convention. As a result, the environment can be shielded from the effects of any potentially harmful enterprise.


Art. 14 guarantees individuals the right to equality in the country. It challenges the "arbitrariness" of the actions taken by the government because "an action that is arbitrary must necessarily contain a negation of equality." Whenever there is arbitrariness in state action, whether on the part of the legislative, the administrative, or an Art. 12 authority, Art. 14 comes into play and invalidates such action.[xvi]In point of fact, the absence of arbitrary authority is the fundamental component of rule of law, which forms the foundation of our entire Constitution of Indiaal system. In this kind of structure, any discretion that is given to the authorities in charge of carrying out the law has to be confined within certain parameters.

This Art. guarantees that “discrimination on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, or location of birth” is prohibited, thereby contributing to the advancement of human rights. When it comes to the duty of protecting the environment in an equitable and just manner, Art. 14 places that duty squarely on the shoulders of the state.

Because we are heading toward grave dangers that are specifically related to the environment, it is essential for the administrative organs and the judiciary of a nation to intervene in order to stop the kind of ecological imbalances that are on the verge of occurring. Because the cases that have been described in further detail played a significant part in the formation of the jurisprudence regarding environmental law, they ought to be taken into consideration when making decisions regarding environmental issues in the future.


In “D.D. Vyas vs. Ghaziabad Development Authority”,[xvii]The petitioner's main criticism of the respondents was that they did nothing to develop the land set aside for a park. Respondents, on the other hand, took the time to clear out plots on open space that the plan had set aside for a public park, and then they tried to sell those plots to make huge profits. The Allahabad HC upheld the SC's decision in the Bangalore Medical Trust case, holding that neither the government nor the authority can change the plan in a way that removes the essential clause that allows the conversion of open space designated for a public park. This decision was reached in accordance with the analysis provided by the SC in the Bangalore Medical Trust case.

“Bangalore Medical Trust vs. B.S. Muddappa And Ors” (1991)

In its decision from 1991 regarding the case of “Bangalore Medical Trust vs. B.S. Muddappa and Others”, the SC of India made note of the fact that the hospital in question was constructed on an open plot of land that the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) had originally designated for the construction of a public park. The dispute centered on who had the right to use a piece of land that was unoccupied and had been earmarked for development into a public park. The locals raised objections to the allotment, stating that it violated Constitution of Indiaal provisions designed to safeguard the natural environment and put a halt to its deterioration, and that this was their primary reason for doing so.

According to the analysis that the SC performed on the evidence that was presented to it, any action that restricts an individual's fundamental rights to freedom, human dignity, or a high standard of living all of which are protected by Art. 14 and are therefore guaranteed to all citizens will be in direct violation of that individual's fundamental right to equality as well as their right to equal protection under the law. This conclusion was reached based on the SC's examination of the evidence that was presented to it. The conclusion that was arrived at as a result of the information that was supplied is as follows: The Court further upheld the “rule of law” in this case by stating that “because the law is the ultimate authority and no one is above the law, any action that violates the law of the country will be regarded as unlawful regardless of whether it was carried out at the direction of the executive or not.” This was another way that the Court demonstrated its commitment to the rule of law. Additionally, the SC defended the principle of the rule of law in this fashion.

“Sushila Saw Mill vs. State of Orissa & Ors” (1995)

The “Orissa Saw Mills and Saw Pits (Control) Act” was enacted in 1991 in order to regulate the building of saw mills and saw pits, as well as their administration and cutting practices. This was done for the purpose of protecting and preserving the environment as well as the woodland, in addition to addressing other concerns connected to this legislation. The case involved the immediate closure of the petitioner's mill on the grounds that it appeared to be causing harm to forest areas due to its position within those areas. The petitioner argued that the mill's location within those areas was the cause of the harm. During that hearing before the SC of India, this piece of legislation was discussed. The petitioner argued that the previously mentioned legislation does not completely outlaw mills, and that if it did, that would violate both the petitioner's fundamental right to conduct business and trade, as well as Art. 14 of the Constitution of India, because it would treat the petitioner's mill differently than mills in the area. Because the mill owned by the Petitioner would be dealt with in a manner that was distinct from that of other mills in the neighborhood, Art. 2 would not be adhered to.

The SC's reasons for denying the petition at hand can be found below in the "Observations Made by the Apex Court While Dismissing the Concerned Petition" section:

  1. The preservation of forests is to be considered a matter of significant public interest; consequently, it will be an extremely unusual circumstance that calls for a complete prohibition by the legislation. In 1991, the State of Orissa passed the “Orissa Saw Mills & Saw Pits (Control) Act”, which made it illegal to carry out any sawing activities within the boundaries of the restricted zone. As a result, the legislation makes it clear that its objective is to impose a total ban on something that is considered to be in the public's best interest.

  2. The court determined that the “Petitioner's Mill fell under the legislative mandate that the entire area that encompasses the restricted zone would be treated as a class in comparison to the other area because it was located within the restricted zone because of its location within the restricted zone. Therefore, it is a legislative scheme to give effect to the legislature's goal in the public interest to safeguard forest wealth and environment by limiting the growth of the forest when the boundaries of that district are situated within the prohibited zone of a reserved or protected or forest area, etc. As a result, the relevant rule was meant to be regarded as class legislation. There is no way that it could be interpreted as discriminatory or as violating Art. 14 of the Constitution of India as a consequence.”


It is clear from reading the various decisions that the Indian judiciary has developed a new "environmental jurisprudence" by utilizing the powerful provisions of the country's Constitution of Indiaal law. This conclusion can be drawn from reading the various judgments. If there was any laziness on the part of executive branch officials in a particular case involving environmental concerns, the courts have not only increased the urgency on the part of executive branch officials but also raised general awareness of environmental concerns. This is due to the courts' role in raising overall awareness of environmental problems in the general population.

It has been observed that there is a more than sufficient amount of legislation that attempts to deal with the threat presented by the destruction of the environment. This observation was made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The sheer volume of rules has produced an environment in which there is confusion and rendered it impossible to carry out any form of enforcement. The same issue calls for strict legislation that can provide a much better and comprehensive approach to provide the essential protection to the environment. Consequently, strict unified regulations are required. This can be accomplished through the use of. In addition to this, the pollution boards have been given the authority to commence legal action in a court of law in order to bring those responsible for the degradation of the environment before the appropriate authorities. Because of this authority, the committees are able to hold those responsible accountable. In order for these boards to be able to impose penalties on individuals who break the law while simultaneously reducing the workload placed on a legal system that is already overburdened, it is possible to contemplate the possibility of providing them with quasi-judicial powers. This would allow them to do both of these things at the same time.

REFERENCES [i]See “Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. UOI, (1996) 5 SCC 647 (T.N. Tanneries Case).” [ii] ibid [iii]VS.P. Agarwal, Forest in India (1985) p.3. [iv] 1985 AIR 652 [v] AIR 1988 Raj 2 [vi] AIR 1992 Ori 225. [vii] C.A.No.7366 of 1996 [viii] 1988 SCR (2) 530 [ix] 1991 AIR 420 [x] AIR 1993 Ker 1 [xi]“Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration provided that man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of quality that permits a life of dignity and well being, and he bares a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.” [xii]Asia’ 92 Permanent people’s tribunal, findings and judgements- “Third Session on Industrial and Environmental Hazards and Human Rights: 19-24 October, Bhopal to Bombay (India) at 14 (1992).” [xiii]See Unni Krishnan vs. State of A.P. (1993) 1 SCC 645 at 730. [xiv]“Right to free legal assistance was recognised in Khatri vs. State of Bihar, A.I.R 1981 S.C. 928; the right of prisoners to be treated with human dignity was recognised in Charles Sobraj vs. Superintendent, Central Jail, Tihar, A.I.R 1978, S.C. 1514; Right to live with human dignity, free from exploitation was recognised in Bandhu Mukti Morcha vs.UOI, AIR 1986, S.C.180.” [xv]A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 1086. [xvi]See K.T. Plantation (P) Ltd. vs. State of Karnataka, (2011) 9 SCC 1. [xvii]AIR 1993 All. 57.

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