Right To Environment And Our Indian Constitution

The Constitution of India casts an obligation on the state as well as the citizens to protect and improve the environment.  Justice Krishnan Iyer calls it’ a Remedial weapon of versatile use’ which must be available to all citizens in their struggle to achieve social justice. Article 48 A was incorporated in part IV of the constitution which relates to the directive principles of state policy (42nd Amendment Act, 1976). It provides that “the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country’’.[1] A new provision Article 51-A was also added by the same amendment in Part IVA of Indian Constitution. Article 51-A provides that it is a duty of every citizen “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.

In the case of Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, the apex court held that it is a duty of every citizen to fulfill their social obligation as fundamental duty enshrined in constitution:

“Preservation of environment and keeping ecological balance is task which not only government but also every citizen must undertake. It is a social obligation and also a fundamental duty as enshrined in Article 51-A (g) of the Constitution.

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In the case of Shri Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court pointed out that whenever a problem of ecology is brought before the court of law, the court is bound to bear in mind article 48 A and 51 – A (g) of the Constitution.  In many other cases the court ordered the other organs to take affirmative action to protect and improve the environment.

In T. Damodar Rao v. SO Municipal Corporation, Hyderabad, the Court pointed out that in view of Article 48 –A and 51-A(g) , the protection of the environment is not only the duty of every citizen but it is also the ‘obligation’ of the state and all other organs including the courts.


‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’. [2]

In Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. UOI and Ors, the Supreme Court stated that Article 21 assures the right to live with human dignity and free from exploitation. The expanded scope of article 21 was explained by the Supreme Court in the case of Unni Krishnan v. State of A.P by helding that life includes education as well and the right to education flows from the right to life.

The Supreme Court gave major contribution by rendering landmark judgments like Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of U.P, M.C Mehta v. UOI and several other pronouncements which enlarged the interpretation of article 21 to include the right to safe and pollution free environment within its ambit.

Again in the case of Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, the SC gave directions that ‘right to life’ includes ‘right to pollution free air and water’.

The Supreme Court adopted a progressive approach and permits the ordinary citizens to file petitions before the court. These petitions are giving birth to an incomparable environmental jurisprudence in the form of a fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment. The judiciary has innovatively interpreted the existing legal provisions to develop the law in the context of environment protection.

Today, the most important and significant development in the field of environment is the expanded interpretation given by the apex court for including a ‘right to clean and healthy environment’ with the ambit of Article 21. This right has to be articulated in a clear and comprehensive manner.

Our human life depends upon clear air, water and healthy environment. Since, the Supreme Court has already recognized right to environment as inherent right under article 21, there is adequate justification to articulate the right to clean and healthy environment as basic fundamental right within Part III of the Constitution of India. It makes and obligation upon the state and other organs to enact appropriate policies, laws which are consistent with the existing laws in our country.  It will introduce stronger environment laws, better implementation, enhanced resource distribution, greater public participation in environmental decision – making and other social and economic rights.

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[1] Article 48A of Constitution of India.

[2] Article 21 of Constitution of India

Vaishali Phull

Content Writer, Law Corner, Student of BBA LLB, 3rd Year, Sharda University

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