Environment and life are interrelated. The existence of life on earth depends on the harmonious relationship between ecosystem and environment. Especially homo-sapiens have very close interaction with nature. Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development and that they are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
In the long evolution of the human race on this planet, a stage has been reached when, through the rapid acceleration of science and technology, we have acquired the power to transform our environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale. Humanity’s capacity to transform its surroundings, if used wisely and with respect to the ways of nature, can bring to all communities the opportunity to enhance the quality of life. Wrongly or heedlessly applied, or applied in iniquitous ways, the same power can do incalculable harm to human beings and their environment. We see around us growing evidence of human-caused harm in many regions of the earth the dangerous levels of pollution in water, air, earth and living beings; destruction and depletion of irreplaceable life forms and natural resources; major and undesirable disturbances in the earth’s climate and protective layers; gross deficiencies, harmful to physical, mental and social health, in the living and working environments of humans, especially in cities and industrial complexes.

It is important to recognize our dependence on the earth’s natural resources. Natural resources such as air, water, and land are fundamental to all life forms: they are, much more than money and economic infrastructure, the base of our survival. To large numbers of humanity, especially communities that have been termed as ‘ecosystem people’ (people depending on the natural environments of their own locality to meet most of their material needs), natural resources are the base of survival and livelihoods. Their material and economic sustenance largely depends on these. In India alone, around 70% of the population directly depends on land-based occupations, forests, wetlands and marine habitats, for basic subsistence requirements with regard to water, food, fuel, housing, fodder and medicine as also for ecological livelihoods & cultural sustenance. Given this close interdependence of humans and their environment, it is not surprising that the culture of societies is so greatly influenced by their environment. They seek inspiration, knowledge, spirituality and aesthetics within their natural surroundings. But it is not only ‘ecosystem people’ who are dependent on the natural environment. It is all humans, even the rich urban resident in Paris or Washington who may be under the delusion that s/he is buffered by the props of modern technology. In the growing cities of the industrializing world, millions of residents of all classes are now prone to lung and skin diseases, water-borne illnesses, and congenital abnormalities from toxics in their food and water, some of which may have originated hundreds of kilometers away.[1]

The Forty- Second Amendment Act: Environmental protection and improvement were explicitly incorporated into the Constitution by the Constitution (Forty- Second Amendment) Act of 1976. Article 48A was added to the Directive Principles of State Policy. It declares: ‘The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife of the country.’ Article 51A (g) in a new chapter entitled ‘Fundamental Duties’, imposes a similar responsibility on every citizen ‘to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creature. Together, the provisions highlight the national consensus on the importance of environmental protection and improvement and lay the foundation for a jurisprudence of environmental protection. [2]


The Interpretation given by the Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union on India[3] case has added new dimensions to the concept of personal liberty of an individual. It laid down that a law affecting life and liberty of a person has to stand the scrutiny of Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution. In other words, if a law is enacted by a legislature which touches upon the life and liberty of a person and curtails it, then it is a mandatory requirement that the procedure established by it for curtailing the liberty of a person must be reasonable, fair and just. It is this interpretation of Article 21 which the court has extended further so as to include the right to a wholesome environment. In other words, environmental pollution which spoils the atmosphere and thereby affects the life and health of the person has been regarded as amounting to violation of Article 21 of the constitution.[4]

The right to livelihood as a part of right to life under Article 21 was recognized by the Supreme Court in Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation.[5] In this case, the petitioners, a journalist and two pavement dwellers challenged the governmental scheme by which the pavement dwellers were being removed from the Bombay pavements. The main arguments advanced on behalf o the petitioners was that evicting a pavement dweller or slum dweller from his habitat amounts to depriving him of his right to livelihood, which is comprehended in the right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution as deprivation of their livelihood would tantamount to deprivation of their life and hence unconstitutional. It was further argued that no person can be deprived of his life except according to the procedure established by law which has to be “just, fair and reasonable”. The petitioner also contended that the State is under an obligation to provide citizens the necessities of life and, in appropriate cases, the courts have the power to issue orders directing the state by affirmative action, to promote and protect the right to life. Social commitment is the quintessence of our constitution which defines the conditions under which liberty has to be enjoyed and justice has to administered. Therefore, directive principles, which are fundamental in the governance of the country, must serve as a beacon light to the interpretation of the constitutional provisions.


In Subash Kumar,[6] the Court observed that ‘right to life guaranteed by article 21 includes the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life.’ Through this case, the court recognized the right to a wholesome environment as part of the fundamental right to life. This case also indicated that the municipalities and a large number of other concerned governmental agencies could no longer rest content with unimplemented measures for the abatement and prevention of pollution. They may be compelled to take positive measures to improve the environment. This was reaffirmed in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India [7]The case concerned the deterioration of the world environment and the duty of the state government, under article 21, to ensure a better quality of environment. the Supreme Court has held that life, public health and ecology have priority over unemployment and loss of revenue. The Supreme Court ordered the Central government to show the steps they have taken to achieve this goal through national policy and to restore the quality of environment. In another case,[10]the Supreme Court dealt with the problem of air pollution caused by motor vehicle operating in Delhi.

The poor and dis privileged classes of humans and the other non-human species unfortunately have to bear the main brunt of these environmental problems. Ironically, the crisis is rooted deep in social, economic and political structures, more specifically in relations of inequity of three kinds Intra-generational inequity, intra-generational inequity, and inter-species inequity. Inequities in the relations between people and countries have also allowed the imposition of unsustainable and destructive models of ‘development’. The process of ‘development’ has been characterised by the massive expansion of energy and resource-intensive industrial and urban activity, and major projects like large dams, commercial forestry, and mining and chemical-intensive agriculture. The resource demand for the economic progress of a minority of people has lead to the narrowing of the natural resource base for the survival of the economically poor and powerless. This has happened either by direct transfer of resources into cities and industrial complexes, or by the destruction of life-support systems for rural communities everywhere. In Re Noise Pollution (V) [8] the cries of a rape victim for help went unheeded in the blaring noise of loudspeaker in the neighborhood. The victim committed suicide. Public interest litigation was filed. The court said that article 21 of the constitution guarantees life and personal liberty to all persons… it guarantees a right of persons to life with human dignity. Therein are included, all the aspects of life which go to make a person’s life meaning full, complete and worth living. The human life has its charm and there is no reason why the life should not be enjoyed along with all permissible pleasures. Any one who wishes to live in peace, comfort and quiet within his house has a right to prevent the noise as pollutant reaching him. No one can claim a right to create noise even in his own premises which would travel beyond his precincts and cause nuisance to neighbours or others. Any noise which has the effect of materially interfering with the ordinary comforts of life judged by the standard of a reasonable man is nuisance. How and when a nuisance created by noise becomes actionable has to be answered by reference to the degree and the surrounding circumstances, the place and the time.


The Supreme Court entertained the Writ Petitions under Article 32 regarding the environmental issues and ordered the closure of some of these quarries on the ground that their operation was upsetting the ecological balance. In other words, the Supreme Court read, and rightly so, Article 48-A into article 21 of the constitution and regarded the right to live in a healthy environment as a part of life and personal liberty of the people. However, in India, most of the environmental jurisprudence has been developed through writ jurisdiction. Judicial activism and the development of the concept of public interest litigation (PIL) under the writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the High Courts have brought a mutation change in processual jurisdiction and it has played an essential role in developing and providing impetus to Environment Jurisprudence with Human Rights approach. This remedy is preferred over the tort action or public nuisance remedy as it is relatively speedy, low in cost and provides direct approach to the higher judiciary thereby reducing the chance of further appeals. The remedy under writ jurisdiction also provides flexibility to the Courts to choose an appropriate relief by issuing appropriate orders, directions or writs.

-By Ipshita Vedajna,
School of Law,
Christ University, Bangalore.

[1]Ashish Kothari, Anuprita Patel, Environment and Human Rights An IntroductoryEssay and Essential Readings NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION

[2]Shyam Divan, Armin Rosen, Environmental Law and Policy in India, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Pg. 45.

[3] AIR 1978 597;1978 SCR (2) 621

[4] Kailash Thakur, Environment Protection Law and Policy In India, Deep and Deep Publications, New Delhi, Pg. 204.

[5] AIR 1980 SC 180

[6] (1998) 9 SCC 589

[7] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1991) AIR SC 813 (Vehicular Pollution Case)

[8] Noise Pollution Vs In Re {(2005) 5 SCC 733/Pr 10}

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