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Constitutional provisions for protection of Environment

Our Constitution has enormously grown and evolved over the years and is said to be one of the most amended constitution so far. In the Indian background, the status of environment protection has not only raised to the fundamental law of land but after a long time in recent past it is corresponded with human rights and is now accepted as well established fact that it is basic human right to every citizen of India [1].

The fundamental duties enshrined n our constitution imposes duty on individuals to protect environment in order to provide each and every human clean environment and a life with dignity and harmony.

In our Constitution, it is vividly expressed that Directive Principles of state policy are bent towards the ideas of Welfare State and healthy environment is said to be an essential ingredient for welfare state. Article 47 states that the State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and also the improvement of public health which includes the protection and improvement of environment as a part of its primary duties.

Article 48-A of the constitution states that the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country. Part III guarantees fundamental rights which are essential for the development of an individual.

The history of legislative started with Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 268 defined what is public nuisance. Abatement of public nuisance is also a subject of Section 133 to 144 of I.P.C. These are only prohibitive provisions. Sections 269 to 278 of the Indian Penal Code are penal provisions which means that a person guilty of violating any of the provisions is liable to prosecution and punishment.

As soon as the Stockholm Conference ended, many Acts were initiated namely: Wildlife Act, 1972; Water Act, 1974; Air Act, 1981 etc. Within five years of Stockholm Declaration, the Constitution of India was amended to include Protection and Improvement of Environment as constitutional mandate. The protection and improvement of environment from time to time is now a fundamental duty under Constitution Act of 1976. Government of India has set up a National Committee on Environmental Planning and Coordination.

Government of India's program for environment included the program for cleaning the rivers including Ganga and Yamuna. Prime Minister, Sh. Rajiv Gandhi constituted Central Ganga Authority for the purpose of pollution control of Ganga. The enactment of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 was the immediate outgrowth, of this program.

Environment And It's Relation With Citizens:

The Constitution of India has made a double provision:
  1. A directive to the State for protection and improvement of environment.
  2. Imposing on every citizen in the form of fundamental duty to help in the preservation of natural environment. This is the testimony of Government's awareness of a problem of worldwide concern. Since protection of environment is now a fundamental duty of every citizen, it is natural that every individual should do it as personal obligation, merely by regulating the mode of his natural life. The citizen has simply to develop a habitual love for pollution.

Legislative Matters And Environment Protection

Since in Indian Constitution , there are three lists:
  1. Union List
  2. State List
  3. Concurrent List
As we know the authority of dealing with the matters of the concurrent list (list III) is shared between both the state and central government. It covers matters like protection of forests, wildlife, conserving mines, population control etc. but in the instance of conflict, the decision of the central government will supersede.

The legislative and administrative relations between the central and the state government are precisely dealt in with the part XI of the Constitution. The power to make rules for the whole country is with the Parliament of the country, while for that of the state lies with the state government of every state.

In an instance of passing state laws successive to the central laws, for it to prevail, requires a Presidential assent first as in accordance with Article 254.
In the situation of national emergency, Parliament has the power to legislate the state subjects also. The division of these legislative powers is essential to make provisions which can deal with environmental problems.

International Environment Agreements

A surfeit of international agreements dealing with environmental protection has been made and India has been a signatory to it. Because at the Stockholm declaration in 1972, it was held that the world has one environment. India being a signatory to such international pacts is under an obligation to translate those provisions and abide by them in the country. This has been clearly stated in Article 51(c) of the Indian constitution that state shall foster respect for international law and the obligations of the treaties.

On contrary to this, the other essential provision dealing in protecting the environment is Article 253 of the Constitution which sanctions the Parliament of our country to make laws which can be applicable to the whole or any territory of the country for implementing any agreement or convention signed with the other country or countries.

Parliament can further legislate to implement decisions taken at any conference on an international level. Any provision made in the context of environmental protection in accordance with Article 253 read with articles 13 and 14 cannot be questioned before the court of law on the grounds of no legislative competence.

With the use of this power, it is quite significant to know that Parliament has enacted Air ( Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, and Environment Protection Act, 1986. It has been clearly stated in the Preamble of these acts that the purpose of their enactment was to implement the decisions taken at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held at Stockholm in the year 1972.

In Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum v. Union of India[2], the Supreme court held that it is essential to incorporate the international customary laws in the municipal laws, provided they are not contrary to them. It is an accepted principle of law. Thus, it was considered essential to follow international laws by the domestic courts of law.

Responsibility Of State For Environment Protection

Article 47 puts an obligation on the state that it shall gaze at the increasing level of nutrition and standard of living of its people. Also, the primary duty of the state shall be to improve public health. It is the obligation of the state to prohibit except for medicinal purposes, the consumption of alcohol and drugs which can be injurious to the health of the living beings and pose a great threat to their lives.

From the word responsibility it can be interpreted that state shall take effective, adequate and necessary steps to improve the health and standard of living of all and promote awareness in the context of environmental protection. In the environment development projects cannot be taken up by the individuals who harm society as a whole. Thus, the state needs to keep a stringent check on these activities and projects.

There have been various reasons due to which level of pollution in the environment is constantly increasing. For eg., water pollution is commonly caused due to the draining of impure water in the rivers and which not only pollutes the natural resource of the country but affects the health of citizens. This lead to the urgent need of making provisions to obligate the state to preserve and protect the environment.

In the case of Hamid Khan v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the state was negligent to supply water from the handpumps, colossal damage was caused to the citizens, which affected their health massively. Hence, due to this gross negligence on the part of the state, it was held that the state failed to perform its basic duty.

In the year 1976, the constitution was amended. With this amendment, Article 48-A was inserted in the constitution with the aim to afford better provisions so as to preserve and protect the environment

Constitutional Provisions
Right of life and Environment protection (Article 21): Article 21 of the constitution provides for the fundamental right of life. It states that no person shall be deprived of his right to life or personal liberty except in accordance with procedures established by law. The words except in accordance with procedures established by law can be interpreted to mean that this provision is subject to exception and is regulated by law which varies from case to case.

Right to life includes the right to have a dignified life and also the bare necessities of life like food, shelter, clean water and clothes. The right to live extends to having a decent and clean environment in which individuals can live safely without any threat to their lives. An environment shall be free from diseases and all sorts of infections.

This is crucial because the right to life can be fulfilled only when one lives in a clean, safe and disease-free environment, otherwise granting such right would prove to be meaningless. This aspect of Article 21 has been evidently discussed in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh[3], where the petitioner along with the other citizens wrote to the supreme court expressing their views against the progressive mining which denuded the Mussoorie hills of trees and forests and soil erosion. This lead to having an adverse effect on the environment and resulted in landslides along with blockage of underground water channels.

The registry was ordered by the Hon'ble supreme court to consider this letter as a writ filed under article 32 of the Constitution.

An expert committee was appointed in this behalf by the Supreme Court to advise the Hon'ble court with some technical issue. On the basis of the report provided by the expert committee, the court provided the limestone quarries to be closed because it was infringing the right to life and personal liberty. Quarrying operations lead to ecological degradation and air and water pollution, which affected the lives of the people to a great extent.

In L.K Koolwal v. State of Rajasthan and Ors[4], Rajasthan High Court held that maintaining the quality of the environment, sanitation and health is covered under the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution. Because non-compliance to do so can adversely affect the lives of many citizens and slow poisoning along with reducing the life of a citizen.

In Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India[5], it was held that the duty of the state is to take adequate and effective steps for the enforcement and protection of Constitutional rights guaranteed under Article 21, 48-A and 51-A(g).

In M.C Mehta v. Union of India[6], due to stone crushing activities in and around Delhi was causing a huge problem of pollution in the environment. The court was conscious of the inevitable consequences and the ecological problems caused due to the industrial activities in the country. In the name of environmental development, it cannot be permitted to degrade the quality of the ecology and increase different forms of pollution to the extent that it becomes a health hazard to the lives of all the citizens. It was further held that citizens have a right to fresh air and have a pollution-free environment in which they live.

Further, the scope of article 21 was broadened by the judiciary to include under its purview the right to livelihood as well. It includes the right of citizens to earn their livelihood along with the right to life. The wider interpretation of this article has proved to be beneficial in keeping a strict check on the conduct and actions of the government in the context of measures taken by the authorities to protect the environment.

In the famous Taj Mahal Case, ample of industries near Taj Trapezium Zone were using coke and coal as an industrial fuel. These industries were ordered to be relocated to an alternative site as provided under Agra Master Plan. The rights and duties of the workmen in the industries were also specified by the court following the principle of sustainable development.

Right to Equality and Environment Protection (Article 14):
Equality before the law and equal protection of the law has been granted under article 14 of the Constitution. This fundamental right impliedly casts a duty upon the state to be fair while taking actions in regard to environmental protection and thus, cannot infringe article 14. In cases of exercise of arbitrary powers on behalf of the state authorities, the judiciary has played a strict role in disallowing the arbitrary sanction. Use of discretionary powers without measuring the interest of the public violates the fundamental right of equality of the people.

In Bangalore Medical Trust V. B.S Muddappa[7], an improvement scheme was prepared by the City Improvement Board of Bangalore for the purpose of extending the city. A low-level park was to be developed for which an area was kept under this scheme. But under the direction of the chief minister the area kept for the low-level park was to be converted into the civic amenity site where the hospital was to be constructed. As soon as the construction began, the residents moved to the high court.

The petition moved in by the residents was allowed by the high court. But in appeal to the supreme court, the appellant contended that the power to allot sites is completely a discretionary one and the developing authority has the right to allow the site for making hospital rather than a park.

And thus, the diverted use of the land was justified in the eyes of the appellant.
By explaining the importance of open spaces and parks in the development of urban areas, the supreme court rejected the appeal. The Hon'ble court further stated that the open spaces, recreation, playing grounds and protection of ecology are the matters of vital importance in the interest of public and crucial for the development. Keeping open spaces for the interest of the public is justified cannot be sold or given on lease to any private person solely for the sake of monetary gains.

Freedom of Speech and Expression and Environment (Article 19(1) (a)):
Right of speech and expression is a fundamental right expressly mentioned in article 19(1) (a) of Part III of the Constitution. There have been a number of cases where people have approached the court through the way of speech and expressing themselves by writing letters like that in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh[8] where they have expressed the violation of their right to have a clean and safe environment and a right to livelihood.

In India, the media has been playing a crucial role in changing the perception of people in issues relating to the environment. Thus, Article 19(1)(a) is interpreted to include the freedom of the press as well.

Freedom of Trade and Commerce and Environment Protection (Article 19(1) (g)):
All the citizens of India have a fundamental right to carry on any profession or business, trade or commerce at any place within the territory of India under Article 19 (1)(g) of the Constitution. But this is not an absolute right and thus, has reasonable restrictions to it. Article 19(6) of the Constitution lays down the reasonable restriction to this fundamental right to avoid the environmental hazards.

The purpose is to avoid the ecological imbalance and degradation of the atmosphere in the name of carrying on a trade, business, occupation or carrying on any profession. Thus, in the name of business or profession, one cannot cause harm to the environment.

In M.C Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1988 SC 1037 certain tanneries were discharging effluents in the holy river Ganga which was causing water pollution. Further, no primary treatment plant was being set up despite the constant reminders. It was held by the court to stop the tanneries from working because the effluents drained were ten times more noxious as compared to the ordinary sewage water which flows into the river.

The court ordered while directing tanneries to be stopped from working which have failed to take necessary steps as required for the primary treatment of effluents from the industries. The court while passing this order contended that, though the court is conscious about the unemployment that might usher due to the closure of the tanneries but health, life and ecology holds greater importance in the eyes of law.

In M.C Mehta v. Union of India[9], it was directed by the Supreme Court that the industries who did not comply or adhere to, with the prior direction of the Hon'ble court regarding the installation of air pollution controlling system should be closed. In this case, the supreme court laid down its greater emphasis on Article 19(6) of the Constitution.

In S. Jagannath v. Union of India[10] , sea beaches and sea coasts were considered to be the gifts of nature, by the Hon'ble Supreme Court and any such activity which pollutes these natural resources or the gift of nature cannot be permitted to function. In this case, a shrimp farming culture industry by modern method causing degradation to the ecosystem, discharge of polluting effluents, is polluting the potable ground-water and depletion of the plantation. All of these activities were held to be violative of constitutional provisions and other legislation dealing with environmental matters, by the court.

The court further held that before the installation of any such industry in a fragile coastal area it is essential for them to necessarily pass the strict environmental test. In other words, reasonable restrictions can be laid in accordance with Article 19(6) of the Constitution.

Directive Principle of State Policy (Article 48(A)):
Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.

In Sher Singh v. Himachal Pradesh[11], It was held that the citizens of the country have a fundamental right to a wholesome, clean and decent environment. The Constitution of India, in terms of Article 48A, mandates that the State is under a Constitutional obligation to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wild life in the country.

By 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, the Parliament, with an object of sensitizing the citizens of their duty, incorporated Article 51A in the Constitution, inter alia, requiring a citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including the forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have a compassion for living creatures.

The legislative intent and spirit under Articles 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution find their place in the definition of 'environment' under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (for short the Act of 1986). The legislature enacted various laws like the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002 and other legislations with the primary object of giving wide dimensions to the laws relating to protection and improvement of environment.

Not only this, there is still a greater obligation upon the Centre, State and the Shrine Board in terms of Article 48A of the Constitution where it is required to protect and improve the environment. Article 25(2) of the UDHR ensures right to standard of adequate living for health and well-being of an individual including housing and medical care and the right to security in the event of sickness, disability etc.

The expression life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution does not connote mere animal existence or continued drudgery through life. It has a much wider meaning which includes right to livelihood, better standard of living, hygienic conditions in the workplace and leisure.

Article 51:
Article 51 Promotion of international peace and security The State shall endeavour to:
  1. promote international peace and security;
  2. maintain just and honorable relations between nations;
  3. foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised people with one another; and encourage settlement of international disputes by arbitration
The Parliament availed the opportunity provided by the Constitution (Forty-second Amendment) Act, 1976 to improve the manifestation of objects contained in Article 48 and 48-A. While Article 48-A speaks of environment, Article 51-A (g) employs the expression the natural environment and includes therein forests, lakes, rivers and wild life. While Article 48 provides for cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle,

Article 51-A(g) enjoins it as a fundamental duty of every citizen to have compassion for living creatures, which in its wider fold embraces the category of cattle spoken of specifically in Article 48.

In Mohan Kumar Singhania & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors.,[12],a governmental decision to give utmost importance to the training programme of the Indian Administrative Service selectees was upheld by deriving support from Article 51-A(j) of the Constitution, holding that the governmental decision was in consonance with one of the fundamental duties.

In State of U.P. v. Yamuna Shanker Misra & Ors.,[13], this Court interpreted the object of writing the confidential reports and making entries in the character rolls by deriving support from Article 51-A(j) which enjoins upon every citizen the primary duty to constantly endeavour to strive towards excellence, individually and collectively.

In T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India & Ors.,[14], a three-Judge Bench of this Court read Article 48-A and Article 51-A together as laying down the foundation for a jurisprudence of environmental protection and held that:
Today, the State and the citizens are under a fundamental obligation to protect and improve the environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, wild life and to have compassion for living creatures.

In State of W.B. & Ors. v. Sujit Kumar Rana[15], Articles 48 and 51-A(g) of the Constitution were read together and this Court expressed that these provisions have to be kept in mind while interpreting statutory provisions.

Article 253:
Legislation for giving effect to international agreements notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body.

Connecting human rights and environment is a valuable sourcebook that explores the uncharted territory that lies between environmental and human rights legislation. Human beings can ensure fundamental equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment that permits a life of dignity and well-being.

There is an urgent need to formulate laws keeping in mind the fact that those who pollute or destroy the natural environment are not just committing a crime against nature, but are violating human rights as well. Indeed, health has seemed to be the subject that bridges gaps between the two fields of environmental protection and human rights.

  1. Subhash kumar v. state of Bihar AIR 420, 1991 SCR (1) 5
  2. Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum v. Union of India AIR 1996 SC 2715
  3. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1985 SCR (3) 169
  4. L.K Koolwal v. State of Rajasthan and Ors AIR 1987(1) WLN 134
  5. Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India
  6. MC Mehta v. Union of India
  7. Bangalore Medical Trust V. B.S Muddappa AIR 1991 SC 1902
  8. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1985 SCR(3) 168;
  9. MC Mehta v. Union Of India , 1994
  10. S Jagannath v. Union of India, [(1997) 2 SCC87]
  11. Sher Singh v. State of Himachal Pradesh
  12. In Mohan Kumar Singhania & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., AIR 1992 Supp (1) SCC 594
  13. State of U.P. v. Yamuna Shanker Misra & Ors., (1997) 4 SCC 7
  14. T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad v. Union of India & Ors.,[14] (2002) 10 SCC 606
  15. State of W.B. & Ors. v. Sujit Kumar Rana, (2004) 4 SCC 129

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