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Right to Development vs Right to Environment in the light of the decision of Rajeev Suri v/s UOI 2021

Nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Right to live in a pollution free environment given under Article-21 of our Constitution held in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991). At the same time the right to development puts an obligation on the State to ensure benefits of development of citizenship. In the recent Rajeev Suri case, the supreme court while dealing with the central vista project considered the balance between environment and development. Environment does not mean compromising the development.

Similarly development does not mean compromising the environment. Both are two pillars of sustainable development. In this light this essay will be dealing with balance between environment and development in India as well as internationally.

Provisions of Right to Environment & Development

We know that some of the rights not expressly mentioned in our Constitution have been recognised as Fundamental Rights by the judiciary. Right to environment prescribed as guidelines under Article-21 & Article-48A. Right to life means to have more than survival and not mere animal existence.

Right to development was in a document produced at 1992's United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil popularly known as Earth Summit. According to Principle-3 of the declaration, the right to development must be fulfilled to equitably meet and develop the environmental needs of present and future generations.

Rajeev Suri vs Union Of India

  • The Supreme Court on 5th January 2021, cleared the road for the Central Vista Project and allowed the Government to go ahead with its construction by 2:1 majority. Justice A.M. Khanwilkar & Justice Dinesh Maheshwari forming majority and Justice Sanjiv Khanna separate judgement.
  • A petition was filed in the Supreme Court in April 2020 challenging the Center's-change-of-land-use notification of March 2020 with regard to the 86 acres land. The petitioner, Rajeev Suri, submitted that the order violated the citizens right to life guaranteed under Article-21 by depriving people of open and green spaces. The petition also agreed that the notification violated the Master Plan of Delhi and that the Centre's notification sought to override an earlier December 2019 notice issued by Delhi Development Authority.
  • Subsequently, the Court heard the challenge on three main grounds:
    1. Change of land use
    2. Violates Municipal law
    3. Violation of Environmental law.
  • Majority judgement said - we hold that the exercise of the Central Government under DDA Act is legal & valid and the impugned notification stands confirmed. Recommendation by the Environmental Committee is just legal and we uphold the same.
  • The Supreme Court while giving the verdict said, the Heritage Conservation Committee approval will be needed when construction work of Central Vista will begin.
  • The Apex Court directed the project proponent to install Smog Tower and use Anti-smog guns at all construction sites.
  • The Court subsequently discussed Participatory Democracy which consists of two important elements:
    1. Public participation in decision making &
    2. Placing information regarding Government actions in the public domain.

Right to Environment vs Right to Development

On the basis of this argument was whether environment and development can co-exist?
In M.C. Mehta vs Union of India (1987) popularly known as Kanpur Tanneries Case the Supreme Court drawing balance between right to development and environment asserted that:
If it finds any public nuisance affecting public and authorities are not taking adequate steps to prevent it, the Supreme Court may issue appropriate directions."

The case shows the environmental approach of the apex court, where in Narmada Bachao Andolan vs Union of India (1994) Supreme Court rejected to take cognizance of the petition by taking a stand of not transgressing its jurisdiction.

Concept of Sustainable Development

In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs Union Of India (1996), the Supreme Court held that the traditional concept that development and ecology oppose each other no longer exists. And that sustainable development is an answer. It is to note that, in the above case, the apex court has laid down guidelines for the Government. This judicial activism shown by the judiciary is uncalled for and duties usurpation of power of judiciary.

It is noted that Directive Principles provide measures to build a society on the principles of Fundamental Rights given by the Constitution of India. Directive places the duty on the Government to take steps for achieving these goals. But bringing these directives under the roof petition of Fundamental Rights neglects the essence of such principle.

Written By: Shashwata Sahu, Advocate, LLM, KIIT School of Law

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