THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT

    A healthy environment is rudimentary to human life. In Hindu religion and various other parts of the world, nature is worshipped and recognized for its contribution in a healthy life of a human being. The basic needs that nature provides for human life are air, water, food, raw materials and minerals, ozone layer and many more which together constitute the environment around human beings and this environment helps to sustain human life.

    “The right to a healthy environment is regarded as a vital aspect for the right to life, for without a healthy environment it would not be possible to sustain an acceptable quality of life or even life itself. The right to life which is an inherent and natural right lies in the central core of human rights. On violations of this right, citizens can invoke the writ jurisdictions of the higher courts. The courts are sincerely enforcing this right. In addition to this, some countries like India have provided the duty to conserve the environment as a fundamental duty.” [1].

    IMPORTANCE OF ENVIRONMENTAL SAFEGUARDS

    The importance of safeguarding the environment for a healthy human life is exigent. The environment, including the air we breathe, the water we consume, the land we live on etc., is the most fundamental necessity required by a human to live a healthy life. For instance, if we consider the current condition of covid-19, we can easily understand the importance of a healthy environment. More than 30 million people around the world have been affected and more than 900 thousand have died due to this virus. Hence, the healthy environment is pertinent to all human health. Furthermore, there have been other such hazardous instances where human life was risked, the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant generated higher levels of radiation in regions of Kieve and Ukraine. Due to this, their environment got adversely affected and hundreds of thousands were evacuated from the nearby cities of Kieve and Pripyat.

    Hence, its safeguard is important for a healthy life, the right to a healthy environment is intrinsic to the right to life and basic human rights. The environmental safeguard directly affects the wellbeing of human life. These natural resources which are provided by the earth for humans are not owned by any private entity. The right to have a basic healthy environment should be provided to all and therefore, no private entity, for their personal enrichment, can damage or pollute or harm the environment. The UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in June 1992 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, was organized to provide a general law for safeguarding the environment. This was followed by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biodiversity and the Agenda 21, which stated a comprehensive list of actions that States were to take in the case of environmental degradation.

    CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS

    To protect and improve the environment is the kernel of any State’s Constitution. It is a country’s commitment for the ideas of a welfare State. The Indian Constitution contains specific provisions for environment protection under the chapters of Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties. Further, the absence of a specific provision in the Constitution recognizing the fundamental right to a healthy environment has been rectified by judicial pronouncement in recent times. 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 for domestic courts to follow international laws.[2]   

    The various provisions of Indian Constitution which deal with the protection of the environment are Article 14, Article 19(6), Article 21,  Article 47, Article 48 (A), Article 51 (A)(g), Article253. 

    ARTICLE 14

    Article 14 states Equality before the law and equal protection of the law, which necessitates the State to be fair and just while taking decisions or enacting any legislation which infringes the right of equality for citizens in protecting the environment. It is stated that the open spaces, recreation, playing grounds and protection of ecology are the matters of vital importance in the interest of the public and crucial for the development. Keeping open spaces for the interest of the public is justified, it cannot be sold or given on lease to any private person solely for the sake of monetary gains.[3]

    ARTICLE 19(1)(g)

    Article 19(1)(g) provides the fundamental right to practice any profession or to carry any occupation, trade or business. But the same is not an absolute right and its reasonable restrictions are provided under Article 19(6) to avoid the exploitation of the environment. Therefore, no person or entity can harm the environment in the protection of its rightful business or occupation. The directions by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in landmark Taj Trapezium case[4] are to relocate the industries from TTZ, the Mathura Refinery should set up a hydrocracker unit and other necessary devices to curb the emission of air pollution, all the emporia and shops functioning within the Taj premises have been ordered to closed, to stop all the brick kilns in the TTZ with effect, the fly ash produced in the functioning of thermal plants may be supplied to the bricks kilns for the constructions of bricks to eliminate the air pollution caused by fly ash and also ask the State to help the industries seeking relocation. Here, the court emphasized on the protection of Environment as a fundamental right promised under Article 19(1)(g) because the right under Article 19 is not an absolute right and hence the priority is given to the health of the environment and quality of life rather than the right to occupation or business.

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    ARTICLE 21

    Article 21 iterates the Protection of life and personal liberty in accordance with the procedure established by law. Life doesn’t mean mere animal existence but more than that, its interpretation covers all those limits and facilities which are important to enjoy life[5]. Deprive a person of his right to livelihood and you shall have deprived him of his life and hence any person who is deprived of his right to livelihood except according to just and fair procedure established by law can challenge the deprivation as offending the right to life provided by article 21[6]. The right to live with dignity and right to livelihood is irrelevant if there is no clean, safe and disease-free environment. Hence,  the right to a healthy environment is intrinsic to the right to livelihood as livelihood means securing all the necessities of life which include a healthy environment to grow and live. The court ordered that the limestone mines be closed because it was infringing the right to life and personal liberty as mining operations lead to ecological degradation and air and water pollution, which is harmful to the people who reside in the surrounding areas. The Supreme Court for the first time held that the right to a healthy environment is a part of the right to life and personal liberty provided under Article 21 of the Constitution, the court also ordered Eco-Task Force to reforest the damaged area from mining [7].  The High Court held that maintenance of health, preservation of the sanitation and environment falls within the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution as it adversely affects the life of a citizen and it amounts to slow poisoning and reducing the life of the citizen because of their hazardous effects.[8] 

    ARTICLE 47 AND 48A

    Article 47 and 48A provide the DPSP i.e. duty of State for protecting and ensuring a healthy environment for citizens. Through the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, Article 48-A was inserted in the constitution with the aim of providing better laws to protect and preserve the natural environment. The provision of this article imposes the duty on the state to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. The state shall not only play the role of being a protector but also take adequate measures and enact legislation for the improvement of the environment. The court held that the state was negligent in supplying water from the hand pumps which is not suitable for consumption and harm 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 DPSP and it resulted causing harm to the people hence the order of the court states that free medical treatment provided to the persons affected [9].

    ARTICLE 51A(g)

    Part IV-A of the Constitution deals with Fundamental Duties of citizens. Under this, Article 51A(g) provides the Fundamental Duty for citizens to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.

    ARTICLE 253

    Article 253 provides the implementation of international treaties, agreements or conventions with any other country or countries. India, being a signatory of many international treaties and conventions, has the obligation to implement those treaties and to do so the State has to make some new laws which may be contrary to other laws and this article provides the power to the legislature to make new required laws. Some of the foreign treaties for Protection of Environment that India is a signatory are Vienna Convention for the protection of Ozone layer 1987, Basel’s Convention on Transboundary movement of hazardous wastes 1989, UN Framework Convention of Climate Change 1992, Convention on Biological Diversity 1992, Agenda 21 etc. The Supreme Court has held that it is essential to incorporate the international customary laws in the municipal laws, provided that 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 [10]. 

    CONCLUSION

    The need for protection of public rights should be provided or backed by some authority or legislation hence it is important to add the right to a healthy environment and protection of the environment in the Constitution as the Constitution declares the functionality, rules and ideas shows the principles on which the state is based. The healthy environment for its citizens is considered as the basic or rudimentary right for every human being. Furthermore, this is noticed by judiciary and legislation.  

    REFERENCES

    1. Dr. Abdul Haseeb Ansari, (1998) 4 MLJ.
    2. Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715.     
    3. Bangalore Medical Trust v. B.S Muddappa, 1991 AIR 1902.
    4. M.C Mehta v. Union of India, Writ Petition (C) No. 182 of 1996.
    5. Munn v. Illinois 1877, 94 US 113.
    6. Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1986 AIR 180.
    7. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh, 1985 AIR 652.  
    8. L.K Koolwal v. State of Rajasthan and Ors., AIR 1988 Raj 2.
    9. Hamid Khan v. State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1997 MP 191. 
    10. Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715. 

    BY SURYANSH GAUR | LAW COLLEGE DEHRADUN,UTTARANCHAL UNIVERSITY

     

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