“Preservation of environment and keeping the ecological balance unaffected is a task which not only governments but also citizen must undertake. It is a social obligation and let us remain every citizen that it is his fundamental duty as enshrined in Article 51-A(g) of the Constitution.” Supreme Court of India in case of Rural Litigation & Environment Kendra v. State of U.P
Rights and duties are correlative to one another, the Part IV-A of Indian Constitution has thus provided certain fundamental duties to its citizen. These duties are therefore intended to serve as a constant remainder to every citizen that while the Constitution specifically conferred them certain fundamental rights it also requires citizens to observe certain basic norms of democratic conduct and democratic behavior.
In simple language, the traditional duties have been given constitutional sanction and made binding to its citizen.
“Right to clean and healthy environment” is a fundamental right within the meaning of Right to life, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. However, the government alone can never make a clean and healthy environment unless with the cooperation of its people. The preservation of ecology, environment and forest is a function not only for the state but also of every individual as it aims to achieve social and economic justice.
Article 51-A(g) of the Constitution of India imposes one of the fundamental duties to protect and improve the natural environment by stating “ It shall be the duty of every citizens to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”
This above said Article was inserted in the Constitution through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act following the guidelines of Stockholm Conference in 1972 where India was a signatory state. Another important Article was also incorporated through this amendment in Part IV that is Article 48-A. Which directs the State to protect and improve the environment as follows
“ 48-A. Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forest and wild life.- The state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wild life of the country”
The Orissa High Court in case of M.C Mehta v. State of Orissa has observed that Article 48-A and 51-A(g) lay down the foundation for the jurisprudence of environmental protection obligating the state and citizens alike to protect and improve the environment.
C.M. Jariwala, one of the pioneers in the field of environmental law, has observed that Article 48-A and 51(g) reflect the ‘principle of intergenerational equity’ and various pronouncement made by the Supreme Court “envisage an emergence of a right of unborn”
This rights to intergenerational equity and right to unborn person to clean and healthy environment has emerge from Article 21, 48-A and 51-A(g) , and that the existing generation was ordained not to plunder but to use Nature according to one’s capacity to repay. Further man is a trustee of the Nature for the upcoming generation to come and to the grabber, who may plunder what he can.
In case of M.C Mehta v. Kamal Nath, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has rightly pointed out that Article 48-A and 51-A(g) have to be considered in the light of Article 21 of the Constitution which provides no person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Any disturbance of any of the element of the environment namely air, water and soil, which are necessary for ‘life’ would be hazardous for ‘life’ within the meaning of the Article 21.