Dr. Sabyasachi Mahanta
The Earth, the environment is our home. It is where we live, breathe, eat, and raise our children. Our entire life support system is dependent on the well-being of all of the species living on the earth. A global sum of all our ecosystems is also referred to as the ‘biosphere’, a term introduced by Russian scientist Vladimir Verdsky in the 1920s. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 of India defines environment as including “water, air and land and the interrelationship which exists among and between air, water and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organism and property”.
According to Glossary of Environment Statistics, the term ‘environmental protection’ implies any activity to maintain or restore the quality of environmental media through preventing the emission of pollutants or reducing the presence of polluting substances in environmental media. It may consist of changes in characteristics of goods and services, changes in consumption patterns, changes in production techniques, treatment or disposal of residuals in separate environmental protection facilities, recycling, and prevention of degradation of the landscape and the ecosystems.
However, protection and preservation of the environment have become causes of serious concern today. There is no denying the fact that human activities and unplanned technological advancements are the key reasons behind wide-scale environmental degradation that threatens the very existence of our world. Global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, presence of large-scale pollutants in our environment, soil erosion, extinction of various plant and animal species are few of the devastating ill effects of human activities on the environment. There, therefore, is an ensuing dispute between a dire need to conserve and preserve our ecosystems on one hand and the need to satisfy growing human wants and aspirations on the other.
Origilly, the Constitution of India contained no specific provisions for environmental protection. However, certain specific provisions have been incorporated in the Indian Constitution by the 42nd Amendment Act of 1976. The Fundamental Duties of the citizens, which were added in the Indian Constitution in Article 51-A by the 42nd Amendment, clearly imposes duty on every Indian citizen to protect the environment. Article 51-A (g), states that “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the tural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures.” However, the Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principles of the State Policy incorporated in the Indian Constitution also underline our tiol commitment to protect and improve the environment.
The Preamble to the Indian Constitution ensures social justice and dignity of the individual. Decent standard of living and pollution free environment is inherent in this principle embodied in the Preamble. The Constitution of India under Part III guarantees Fundamental Rights which are essential for the development of every individual and to which a person is inherently entitled by virtue of being human alone. Right to environment is also considered as a basic human right. It is also a right without which development of individual and realization of his or her full potential shall not be possible. Articles 19 and 21 of Part III of the Indian Constitution are specifically committed to the protection and preservation of the environment. Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution confers the fundamental right on every citizen to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business. However, a citizen cannot carry on business activity, if it is hazardous to the health of society or general public. Thus, safeguards for environment protection are inherent in this. Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees fundamental right to life. Right to environment, free from danger of diseases and infections is inherent in it. Right to healthy environment is an important aspect of right to live with human dignity. In a landmark judgment of 1981, the Supreme Court of India observed, “…the Right to Life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it… This now includes the right to clean and hygienic environment …” In another judgment in 1991, the Court included ‘right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life” within the scope of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The Directive Principles of State Policy embodied in the Indian Constitution envisages the building of a welfare state. Healthy environment is also one of the important elements of a welfare state. Article 47 provides that the State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties. The improvement of public health also includes the protection and improvement of environment without which public health cannot be assured. Article 48 of the Constitution deals with the organization of agriculture and animal husbandry. It directs the State to take steps to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines. Article 48-A of the Constitution says that “the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”.
At local and village level too, Panchayats have been empowered by the provisions of the Indian Constitution to take measures such as soil conservation, water magement, forestry and protection of the environment and promotion of ecological aspect. Public Interest Litigation (PIL) under Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution of India also resulted in a wave of environmental litigation.
It is a fact that the Earth is our paradise and it is our duty and responsibility to protect our paradise. Environment protection and preservation of the ecosystem is an integral part of our cultural values and traditions. The Constitution of India embodies the framework of protection and preservation of ture without which life cannot be enjoyed. Indian Constitution is one of the very few constitutions in the world, which provides for specific provisions for the protection and improvement of the environment. The Indian Constitution, being the fundamental law of the land has a binding force on all its citizens, non-citizens as well as on the State. However, dissemition of knowledge of constitutiol provisions regarding protection and preservation of the environment is need of the hour. Urgent and active steps need to be taken in order to generate environmental awareness, to facilitate environmental education and to sensitize people to conserve ecology and environment.