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Case commentary: on MK Ranjitsinh & Ors v. Union of India & Ors

SAINIKITHA.OL, Tamil Nadu Dr. Ambedkar Law University, School of Excellence in Law

Court

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India

Citation

Writ Petition (Civil) No. 838 of 2019

Case Name

M K Ranjitsinh & Ors v Union of India & Ors. 

Date

21.03.2024

Appellant

M K Ranjitsinh & Ors

Respondents

Union of India & Ors.

Judge

Hon’ble Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, CJI; J B Pardiwala; J Manoj Misra

 

Introduction:

There are many species of birds and animals which are in the brink of extinction around the world. One such species in the brink of extinction is The Great Indian Bustard (GIB), a large sized bird found in arid regions, particularly in the state of Rajasthan and Gujarat. One of the heaviest flying birds in the world whose wing span is about 210-250 cm. Also, a critically endangered bird species due to multiple persisting reasons. Pollution, climate change, habitant loss, invasive species, low reproduction rate etc.., are few reasons contributing to the extinction of this bird species. Overhead transmission lines are the major factor contributing to the dwindling numbers of Great Indian Bustard. This bird species was on the verge of extinction. The jurisprudence with regard to environmental conservation and climate change has been very progressive around the world. A delicate balance between SDG and developments are of paramount importance. The Apex Court, through this case has ensured that bird species are conserved while adhering to the international obligations and maintaining consistent energy needs.

Background of the case:

In the present case, the Appellant had sought the Supreme Court for the better protection of shrinking GIB population in India. Eventually, the Apex Court had went into the intricacies of the problems highlighted in the present case by both the Appellant and the respondents. The aim is to protect the GIBs from further extinction while maintaining a proper overhead transmission lines in the States of Rajasthan and Gujarat. As stated earlier, GIBs are taller, heavier birds with wide wingspan and has poor eyesight which increases the threat of extinction.

Facts of the Case:

The factual matrix of the present case is related to the need for a delicate balance between conservation of critically endangered birds such like GIB and the need for development which is essential for a developing country for various political and economic purposes. The GIBs are prevalent in arid areas or grassland regions and currently the state of Rajasthan is home to the flock’s population. The recent statistics points that this species is on the verge of extinction and at present this species is termed to be critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The reproduction rate of GIBs is relatively low as when compared to other fellow bird species. For instance, a GIB can lay only a single egg at a time which is uncommon among other bird breeds. Another major reason for the decline in GIB population is due to overhead transmission wires which the petitioner believed to be a major threat to the survival of the Great Indian Bustard. The Power line Mitigation Report of 2018 enumerated that around 1 lakh birds perish and succumb due to collision with the power lines. Thus, the petitioner sought the Court to cease permit for additional construction of windmills and solar installation in the priority areas declared by the Indian wildlife Institute to avoid further extinction of the species which is in the brink of extinction.

Issues Raised:

1. Whether a committee of experts is requisite for monitoring and preparing data ensuring protection to the declining GIB population?

2. Feasible measures to ensure security to the species while developing renewable energy resources.

Arguments by the Appellant:

The very core rational behind filing this case is to conserve the declining habitat of the GIB due to various factors, one being transmission lines. The appellant had requested the Court to form a committee for date collection and monitoring the enforcement of directions issued by the Apex Court. The declining population of GIB would leave a detrimental impact on the desert ecosystem of Rajasthan. Also, installation of underground lanes for electricity were emphasised by the Appellant. Furthermore, a report by the Power Grid Corporation was submitted to support the claim that undergrounding of electricity channels are more feasible and this proposed method was successfully implemented to save the bird species in the Khadir region of Kutch.

Arguments by the Respondents:

The respondents contended that the said method is not feasible and had been used for limited number of tender notifications and has no universal application. Similarly, this view was supported by the Wildlife Institute of India emphasizing that a blanket solution won’t suffice. A multifaceted solution is imperative for addressing this crucial issue. An additional Affidavit accentuated that the decline in GIB population started way back in 1960 even before the installation of transmission lines and inception of mass electrification in the country. The respondents outlined various reasons for the decline in GIB population apart from transmission lines,

· Poaching

· Invasive species

· Low birth rate

· Climate Change

And furthermore, few other recommendations were made by the respondents including,

· Installation of bird divertors

· Underground channels wherever feasible

Indian Constitution on Wildlife Conservation:

Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. The term “life” has been given a broad interpretation by the judiciary and includes all forms of life, including animal life which is essential for a balanced ecosystem.

Article 48A: This provision states that “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”. DPSP are not enforceable but in the Kerala Education Bill case the Doctrine of Harmonious Construction was introduced by the Supreme Court where both Fundamental Rights and DPSP go hand in hand to avoid the state of conflict between them.

Article 51A (g): Highlights the duty of citizens to protect and improve the environment comprising of forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and stipulates to have compassion for other living creatures.

Judgement:

The Court emphasised the urgent need to protect these declining population from extinction. Also, ordered to instal divertors to protect the species from further decline. Regarding the transmission lines, the Court mandated to perform a preliminary study regarding the feasibility of installing a transmission channel prior to actual installation. The Court rightly noted that establishment of breeding centres with sufficient care would be a paramount step to protect this critically endangered species from further extinction. India had made international commitments to combat climate change rooted in the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement and so on. The court proposed several other ways to mobilize financial resources. One suggestion was to draw the attention of each electricity utility to Section 135 of the Companies Act, 2013, which mandates corporate social responsibility based on a company's net worth or profit. Another suggestion was to utilize Section 166(2) of the same Act, which requires company directors to act in good faith and in the best interests of the company, the community, employees, other stakeholders and the natural environment. Additionally, national and state authorities possess significant funds under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act, 2016, with Sections 4, 5, and 6 of this Act specifying that these funds should be used to mitigate threats to wildlife. A new constitutional right was recognised which is to be free from the adverse effects of climate change within the ambit of Article 21 and 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Conclusion:

The adverse effects of climate change have finally been addressed through this judgement in the domestic jurisprudence by the apex court. To protect the ecosystem and food-chain, it is paramount to ensure the safety and security of the species which are critically endangered. There must be a delicate balance between economic growth and the conservation of the environment, ensuring that development does not come at the cost of ecological degradation.

International organizations and various countries had started criminalizing the act of ecocide to protect the environment from human activities and mass destruction of environment should never be encouraged to ensure that all living creatures live a peaceful and compassionate life.

References:

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