Environment vis-à-vis Constitutionalism by Vanshika Chauhan at LEXCLIQ


Though the right to live in a clean and healthy environment existed initially but was not perceived as a ‘Fundamental Right’ until a few years back. The particular right aforementioned is not explicitly specified but comes within the purview of Article 21[1] of the Indian Constitution. It was duly recognized after the judiciary gave a protracted aspect to Article 21 by including the right to have a clean environment as a fundamental right in the landmark judgment of Subhash Kumar V State of Bihar[2] in which it was held that the right to pollution free water and air comes within the sphere of Article 21.  Further, the Supreme Court re-established that the right to a healthy environment and right to clean air emanates as a basic human right from Article 21 itself.[3]  In another case titled as Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v State of UP[4] the court ordered the termination of a number of limestone quarries after the representatives of the aforementioned body wrote to the Supreme Court asserting that damage is being caused to the ecosystem due to illegal mining in the Mussorie-Dehradun belt.

The Constitution of India at the time of its inception did not have any judicially enforceable provisions constituting the protection of natural environment. It however included a few directives to the State having a minute penchant towards protection of environment under Article 39(b), 47, 48 and 49 inflicting individual and unified duty on the state in order to improve the general health of the environment along with catering a clean environment to the country.

In the recent times the absence of any definitive provision recognizing right to clean environment has been subsided by the judiciary through judicial activism. Realizing that to protect and safeguard the environment is a constitutional mandate, two specific provisions were adopted through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment (1976).

The said Amendment Act added Article 48A to the Indian Constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy declaring:

“The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”.

Whereas Article 51(A) (g) imposed a similar responsibility in the form of Fundamental Duty upon every citizen:

“To protect and improve the natural environment including forest, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”.



[1]Article 21 of The Indian Constitution: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.”

[2] AIR 1991 SC 420.

[3] M C Mehta V UOI, AIR 1987 SC 1086.

[4] AIR 1987 SC 2426.

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