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“The environment and the economy are really both two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.” – Wangari Maathai


As the era of ecological sustainability commences, the principal goal is the preservation of the ecosystem while also improving the citizen's quality of life. In India, there has been long strain of struggle and numerous significant environmental achievements and catalysts in the productive outcome. The concern for environmental protection has not just been lifted to the level of fundamental policy, but it has also been oriented towards the most basic human right of each and every individual to live in a healthy and pollution-free habitat with complete human dignity. The Constitutional Framers articulated the Fundamental Rights in a greater meaning, providing extra significance or impact to the Right to Life as envisioned in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This was the initial step in judicial activism that led to the recognition of the right to a healthy environment as a basic right. There has been a long-standing history of evolution of environmental rights being incorporated in the Indian Constitution. The research tends to analyse the several facets of major innovations implemented by the court in determining the right to a healthy environment as a Fundamental Right and thus seeks examines the genesis of environmental legislation in India and its strong association with the country's judiciary.


Keywords:- ecological sustainability, fundamental policy, judicial activism, Article 21, pollution free habitat






Our cultural ideals and practices encompass environmental preservation. In the words of Atharvaveda, "Man's nirvana is just on earth; this diversity of life is the treasured abode of all; It possesses the gifts of nature's bounty; live in a wonderful attitude." The obligation to conserve our paradise, Earth, rests upon all of us. The Indian Constitution is a living document that progresses through time. The safeguarding and preservation of nature, without which it is impossible to enjoy life, is included in the Indian constitution. To boost citizen participation, promote awareness of green, promote sustainable education, and foster an appreciation of conservation among the populace, individuals must be aware of the constitutional provisions pertaining to environmental preservation.


"The environment includes land, water, and the interactions that occur between them and individuals, other living things such as microorganisms, plants, and property."



Environmentalism is an ethical and political movement that strives to preserve and maintain the beauty of the natural world by modifying ecologically hazardous human activities and re-evaluating humanity's relationship with Mother Nature.


India has ancient tradition of protecting the environment.Ecological consciousness first appeared in the historical record at about 5,000 years ago.There are several writings proving that in ancient India every individual had to practice the dharma to protect and worship nature[1]. A look at the environmental ethics of the olden times contained in Vedas, Upanishads, smritis and puranas discloses environmental harmony and conservation since sun, air, fire, water and the earth were considered as manifestations of divine’s personification. Even Buddha preached empathy for all sentient creatures.

Mankind has always been a social animal that is socially, economically, and for sustenance is dependent on the environment. The survivalist pattern was known as hunters and gatherers, and the life-approach was nomadic.In case of FORMENTO RESORTS AND HOTELS LTD. VS. MINGUEL MARTINS[2], Supreme Court stated that sages and saints of India lived in forests and in those days everyone worshipped trees, rivers and sea and children were educated by their parents and grandparents about the necessity of keeping environment clean and protecting earth and its inhabitants.

From the perspective of environmental preservation, the Maurya empire period was undoubtedly the most magnificent era in Indian history. In this period we encountered thorough and perceptive statutory frameworks in the Kautilya's Arthashastra, which was authored between 321 BC and 309.BC. Kautilya’s Arthshastra was the prime document during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya advocating the environment through organised manner.


In this period, the significance of forest administration was identified, and the process of management was really executed with the selection of a custodian of forests and the segmentation of forests on a systematic basis.


During the Mughal Dynasty other than the reign of Emperor Akbar, no worthy environmental jurisprudence has been reported in this time. The renowned monarch Jahangir recruited a significant number of craftsmen to depict animals and birds.Therefore, we may conclude that forests and animals shrank steadily over this period of time because there were no concrete regulations set up to preserve them.


The Colonial Period (1800-1947AD), surfaced from 16th century with the objective of trading from India, but upon discovering the incredibly huge quantity of natural assets and prospects to leverage the reserves existing, they altered their tactical plan and made the decision to achieve their objective of maximizing resource extraction in India. The initial stages of British India experienced a plethora of natural wealth, which British plundered via imperialism.[3]

Colonial power arrived in India with the avowed intention of making wealth and revenue through implementation of the Leissez-faire ideology. Even though they sought to implement multiple laws to protect the environment, they were driven to act for profit rather than preservation.



The escalating interaction with the environment in the form of rapid industrialization, depletion of natural assets, and the recurrence of natural catastrophes has culminated in instabilities in the bio-spheric system, triggering environmental activism.

  • The Bishnoi Hindus of Khejarli were perhaps the initial real environmental activists, murdered by the King of Jodhpur around 1720 for attempting to defend the forest he cut to construct himself a palace. This was the first initiative of its kind that sought to develop the notion of caressing or embracing trees on an ad hoc basis for their preservation. This is typically referred to be the Bishnoi movement[4].


  • This was accompanied by significant public resistance in 1973, the Chipko Movement[5] began in Uttarakhand to stop illicit tree cutting in the Himalayan area (Uttarakhand). Sunderlal Bahuguna and Chandi Prasad Bhatt led the initiative.The participation of women became one of the movement's most notable elements.


  • A movement called the Appiko Campaign[6] in Karnataka was initiated by Pandurang Hegde in 1983 and was simulated after the Chipko Movement. The optimal development, conservation, and effective utilization of forests was amongst its primary objectives, along with afforestation. To embrace a tree to convey how much you cherish is to "appiko," as the word implies.


  • Silent Valley Campaign, a tropical evergreen forest zone in Kerala. It features a high biodiversity. Environmentalists and local residents were outraged when a hydropower project was proposed here in 1973. In 1985, the authorities were compelled to proclaim it a national reserve forest due to public outcry.


  • Jungle Bacha Andolan[7] started in 1982, the tribal community in Jharkhand.The government planned on substituting natural soil and woods with costlier teak. This approach is described as "Greed Game Political Populism" by many environmentalists.


  • Since 1985[8], environmentalists and residents have been fighting the erection of dams upon the Narmada for the generation of hydroelectricity, known popularly as the Narmada Bachao Aandolan. The aandolan was led by Medha Patkar and was backed through Baba Amte, Arundhati Roy and Aamir Khan.


  • Tehri Dam Dispute, initiated by villagers in the 1980s and 1990s since the hydropower project would be built in a seismically vulnerable region, causing the submergence of forest regions as well as Tehri town. Notwithstanding the protests, the dam was built with police protection while Sunderlal Bahuguna was fasting till death. Bahuguna halted his fast when the government promised to assess the undertaking, but work continued, albeit at a reduced rate.

Several grass-roots environmental movements have been launched in opposition to development activities that have jeopardised the ecological balance, changing public policy to be more environmentally friendly.


The legislative history of environmental safety stretches back to 1860 when Indian Penal Code was enacted. Section 268-294-A of Chapter XIV of IPC deals with offences pertaining to security, public health, and others. These regulations prioritise public health and make any activity that permeates the environment and jeopardises an individual's life punishable.


Various laws were enacted in British India (1800-1947 AD), including: the Shore Nuisance (Bombay and Kolkata) Act, 1853; the Merchant Shipping Act of 1858; Elephant’s Preservation Act 1879;the Fisheries Act 1897,etc,. regulating environmenttal protection.


Post-Independence Scenario: There was no specific environmental policy in the initial phases of independence, and few effort was made to develop any explicit policy or law for environmental protection.The post-independence era witnessed numerous changes in government attitudes concerning environmentalism. The Indian Constitution was enacted on January 26, 1950.When the constitution was drafted in 1950, it lacked provisions expressly pertaining to environmental conservation and economic growth was the main aspect of the magna carta. Nevertheless, several provisions addressed it:


Indian Constitution’s Preamble-

The Preamble of the Indian Constitution, beginning with "We the People," describes the Constitution's objectives and intent. It declares India to be a Self governing,Socialist ,Secular ,Democratic and Republic nation. The phrase "Democratic Republic" highlights that government is created to meet the needs of the people and that the citizens are entitled to participate in the political process. This implies that government must strive to establish, among other reasons, a clean environment conducive for human habitation.

The Preamble also advocates social, economic, and political justice. Justice can be perceived and sought in a variety of ways. Citizens therefore have the entitlement to environmental justice.


Article 39(b) places an obligation on to adopt appropriate policies for the control and ownership of environmental assets and to distribute them equally for the good of the community.

Article 47 imposed a primary duty on the state to improve people's nutritional levels and living standards, as well as public health.

Article 48 of the Constitution obliges the state to use scientific and technical methods to arrange the livestock and animal husbandry and to ensure their preservation and improvement and to avoid killings of calves, cows and draught animals.

Article 49 states that "it must therefore be the state's duty to safeguard against destruction, distortion, damage, withdrawal, decommissioning, or trade, as the case may be, every site or site as well as object of artistic or historical importance, deemed to have national importance."

The Stockholm Declaration in 1972, an article of confederation on environment wherein India also participated, transitioned the Indian govt's commitment to a holistic view of environmental preservation. Mrs. Indira Gandhi, India's then-Prime Minister, attended the United Nations Convention on Environment in the Stockholm, Sweden. She expressed special concern on degradation of the environment and ecological imbalances.



In accordance with the Stockholm Conference, the 42nd Constitutional Amendment was introduced in 1976 to provide for environmental preservation as well as growth via Articles 48A and 51A. (g).

Article 48 A stipulates that the nation has an obligation to safeguard the nation’s forests and wildlife, as well as to upkeep and improve the environment. As a result, it became the responsibility of the state to maintain and encourage a clean environment.

Judges, on the other hand, must verify that all branches of government respect the law. Additionally, the Supreme Court declared in "MUMBAI KAMGAR SABHA VS. ABDULBHAII" if various interpretations or views are possible, the court should choose that is harmonious with the socioeconomic philosophy inferred in the Constitution's fourth part.


According to Article 51 A(G), its citizens get a duty to secure and enhance the environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, as well as to cultivate sensitivity for living animals.

The major judgement in "L.K. KOOLWAL VS. STATE OF RJ" by the Rajasthan High Court emphasised that there can be no benefits without duties and vice versa. Therefore, what one person owes will become another man's right, and all advantages are justified.



The Indian Constitution is one of the few worldwide that incorporates specific environmental protection clauses. Part III and Part IV of the Constitution express the nation's commitment to protecting and improving the environment.


In boundaries of fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed in Art 21[9] expanded to include environment protection. Hence, Art 21 of a Indian Constitution describes the "Right to Life" as the "Freedom to an A Healthy and Clean Environment."

Drawing on Field, J.’s assertion in MUNN V. ILLINOIS, where it was held that life entails much more than a simple animal existence, the Apex Court has also held in FRANCIS CORALIE V. UNION TERRITORY OF DELHI that indeed the “right to life” encompasses the privilege of living with human fidelity, and that what Article 21 enunciates is not only life, but also all those appendages and faculties by which life is enjoyed.


The right to live in a healthy and pollution – free environment has been deemed to be a fundamental right provided for by Article 21[10]  as a result of wider construction of the expressions “life” and “personal liberty.[11]

In M.C. MEHTA V. UNION OF INDIA, where a petition was filed to prevent the decay of the Taj Mahal because of air pollution caused by coal-using industry sectors via Trapezium, the Hon’ble Supreme court issued a directive to 292 industries in Agra to switch to Natural Gas as manufacturing fuel within a time schedule as well as cease to function with fossil and to implement for resettlement and or simply shut down w.e.f. 30-04-1997 on consideration of contravention of Articles 21, 48A,

In M.C. MEHTA V. KAMAL NATH- The Supreme Court recognised that any alteration of crucial environment components such as air, water, and soil, which are required for "life," would be harmful to "life" under the Constitution's Article 21. It also stated that  the polluter principle and the Public Trust Doctrine apply.

The Apex Court emphasised in N.D. JAYAL V. UNION OF INDIA that right to a healthier environment is embedded in the right to life guaranteed by Article 21. Similarly, the Supreme Court declared in MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF GREATER BOMBAY V. KOHINOOR CTNL INFRASTRUCTURE CO. (P) LTD that right to live in a healthy and clean environment is part of the right to life and personal liberty guaranteed by Article 21.


In NARMADA BACHAO ANDOLAN V. UNION OF INDIA AND OTHERS, India’s Apex Court stated that "water is a basic necessity for sustaining life and thus is an essential aspect of the right to life as adopted in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution... and also the right to a clean environment as well as a prosperous future are foundational liberties implicit in the right to life."


Right to wholesome environment

In SUBHASH KUMAR VS. STATE OF BIHAR[12], the court stated that the fundamental right to life encompasses the liberty of breathing clean air and drink clean water, and that if something endangers or damages the life quality in violation of the law, a person has the right to appeal the Apex Court within Article 32.


Right to livelihood

The Supreme Court recognised this right in OLGA TELLIS VS. BOMBAY MUNICIPAL CORPORATION[13], The court stated that depriving person of his right to livelihood means depriving his life and thus state should ensure that people get adequate means of livelihood.

Right to equality and environment-Article 14[14] This fundamental right is oriented opposing arbitrariness "as arbitrary actions must invariably constitute a denial of equality."[15] Exerting discretionary powers without regard for the public good jeopardises people’s fundamental right to equality.


In STATE OF HP VS. GANESH WOOD PRODUCTS[16], the Apex Court mentioned that the deciding authority should give weight to ecological factors such as environmental policy of government and sustainable use of natural resources.


Freedom of speech & expression and environment -article 19(1)(a):

Freedom of expression is particularly mentioned as a basic right in Art 19(1)(a) of Constitution. There have been several cases when citizens attempted to contact the court by speech and writing, such as in the issue RLEK, DEHRADUN VS. STATE OF UP, wherein they asserted an invasion of their entitlement to a safe and clean environment, as well as their right to a living.

In India, the press is critical in shaping people's opinions of environmental issues.


Freedom to trade vis-a vis preserving the environment- article 19(1)(g):

According to Article 19 (1)(g)[17],assures balancing environmental interests with a fundamental right to carry on any occupation, trade or business. In SUSHILA SAW MILL VS. STATE OF ORISSA[18] here it wzs stated that when statute prohibits totally to continue operation of even the existing saw mills situated within prohibited area than it would be subject to be covered under article 19(1)(g) in public interest.



Directive principles are becoming complementary to fundamental rights.There are certain principles that guide state to preserve nature.


State to protect and safeguard environment- Article 48 A

This obliges state to protect, improve and safeguard environment including forests and wild life.

In T. DAMODAR RAO VS SPECIAL OFFICER, MUNICIPAL CORPORATION OF HYDERABAD [19] states that this article impose “an obligation” upon government, including courts, to protect environment.


State’s duty to promote international peace and

security- article 51

Article 51,states that the state will do everything possible to:

a. promote global peace and security; b. ensure just honest interactions between states; c. increase legitimacy for international laws and treaties; and promote foreign dispute settlement via arbitration.


In the case of MOHAN KUMAR SINGHANIA & ORS. VS. UNION OF INDIA & ORS[20]., a government decision to promote training for IAS selectees was supported by citing Ar 51-A(j), which said that the government's approach was in accordance with a few of its fundamental duties.

A three-judge bench read articles 48-A as well as 51-A together laying the groundwork for environmental jurisprudence in T.N. GODAVARMAN THIRUMALPAD VS. UNION OF INDIA & ORS[21], inferring that "Presently, the Nation and inhabitants have a fundamental duty to preserve and improve the natural globe, including forest areas, bodies of water, rivers, wildlife populations, and compassion for living creatures."


Article 47: It is the role of the state to enhance the standard of living of its residents through offering access to safe and hygienic settings, nutritional food, and health care. It also promotes for enhanced environmental understanding among the public.


When a PIL violates a fundamental right, these rules allow citizens the option of petitioning the Supreme Court or even the High Court (Public Interest Litigation). According to Article 51A of the Indian Constitution, environmental protection and ecological balance are the responsibility of every Indian citizens, as made evident by the innumerable PIL complaints brought for this objective, including such M.C. MEHTA VS. UOI and RLEK DEHRADUN VS. THE STATE OF UP (G).


Article 246: This article allocates legislative responsibilities between both the Union and individual states. Schedule VII divides legislative duties between the States and the Union. Lists I, II, and III (Concurrent List). Union has exclusive authority to legislate on topics listed in List I, State have exclusive power to enact laws on subjects listed in List II, while Union and States share equal power to enact laws on subjects listed in List III, subjected to Union predominance in the event of a conflict.[22]


Article 253 and environmental legislation

Article 253 authorizes Parliament to make laws to carry out any conventions, treaties, or agreements with foreign governments. This article was used to pass the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the Water Act of 1974, the Air Act of 1981, and the Environment Protection Act of 1986. As a corollary, to fulfil its international obligations under international agreements and conventions like the Stockholm Declaration of 1972[23], Parliament has passed laws under Article 253 read in conjunction with Article 13 and 14 of the Union List.

The wide terminology of Article 253 implies that, after the Stockholm Conference of 1972, Parliament now has the authority to legislate on all issues concerning the preservation of natural resources.


The petition in B.L. WADEHRA V. UNION OF INDIA sought orders for the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation to discharge their obligations, specifically the collection, removal, and disposal of rubbish and other waste. The Supreme Court, through Kuldeep Singh J, voiced extreme discontent with the pollution in India's capital, observing that the Historic City of Delhi, the Capital of India, is one of the world's most polluted cities. The agencies in charge of pollution management and environmental preservation have failed to give inhabitants of Delhi with a clean and healthy environment. It is tough to breathe since the air is so dirty. More and more Delhi residents are battling from respiratory and throat infections.

The court ruled that the right to be free of pollution and to live in a hygienic environment is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 21 interpret with Article 48A, and it issued orders to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the New Delhi Municipal Corporation pertaining garbage collection and disposal to keep the city clean.

Environment and religious freedom

The right to freedom of religion granted under Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution relates to the individuals and the institutions in community and includes the right to profess, practice and propagate religion, but however it should not invade with the quality of environment. In OM BIRANGANA RELIGIOUS SOCIETY VS STATE[24] stated that right to religion is subject to right to freedom of speech and expression. The amplifier and microphone create tremendous noise and sound that travels long distance, and it should not travel beyond the zone in which the listeners do not feel disturbed.


Schedules of the constitution

The Seventh Schedule grants the Centre plenary authority to negotiate agreements with foreign nations and to enact necessary legislation to carry them out.[25] Under Entry 6 of the Seventh Schedule, the state senate has been given authority to enact legislation concerning public health and hygiene.

The Constitution's 73rd Amendment of 1992 on Panchayats introduces a new Schedule to the Constitution, the Eleventh Schedule.The Panchayats were assigned the following functions under the 73rd Amendment Act: preservation, watershed management, watershed development, social and agriculture forestry, drinkable water, fuel and fodder, non-conventional energy sources, and maintenance of community assets, all of which are considered important items in terms of environmental management.


Compassion and rights of all biotic elements i.e. living beings

Compassion” to living creatures and development of “humanism” are specific fundamental duties incorporated into Constitution by 42nd Amendment.In case of STATE OF GUJARAT VS. MIRZAPUR MOTI KURESHI KASSAB JAMAT[26], it was stated that cattle are very much entitled to compassion in their old age even when they cease to be milched or draught and thus impugned animal preservation law is valid.

In case of ANIMAL WELFARE BOARD OF INDIA VS. A NAGARAJA[27] In this judgment, the Supreme Court prohibited the employing of bull and bullocks in "entertainment activities" like Jallikattu and bull cart race, among others.This significant decision declared that Bulls shouldn't be utilised in any sort of performance, including races and bullfights.

The decision added that government and the Animal Protection Board must defend animals' "five freedoms." This includes Liberation from thirst and starvation; Freedom from pain; Liberation from pain, damage, and sickness; Liberation from anxiety and distress; Freedom to display regular behaviour.


Environment is the compendium of several things[28] and thus inanimate objects are also to be included as invisible parties in environment litigation.The courts have also adopted the eco-centric approach whereby every specie of the nature is having right to life and security expanding the rights mentioned under the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.It is thus obligation of not only the legislature, executive or the judiciary but also of the individual citizens to protect and improvise the environment.

In fast developing nation as India, environmental issues are also pacing up.Thus, it calls for contributions to be made by the courts which should be conducive to sustainable development. However, the courts indeed commendably interpret the provisions of the constitution in conformity with the sustainable development agenda.







  • Shyam Divan & Armin Rosencranz, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW AND POLICY IN INDIA, oxford publication (2nd ed. 2020).
  • Jaswal P.S, Environmental Law; Allahabad Law Agency (3rd ed. 2018).
  • Shastri, Gurdip; Environmental Law; Eastern Book Company
  • Jain M.P.; Indian Constitution Law; Lexis Nexis






















[1] CM Jariwala ,” changing dimensions of Indian environmental law” in law and environment, EBC,Lucknow 1992,pp 1-2

[2] Formento Resorts and Hotels Ltd. VS. Minguel Martins (2009) 3 SCC 571, p 617 : 2009(1) SCALE 758

[3] On October 19, 1884, the British Authorities announced first ever Forest Policy resolution. The policy also recommended a crude functional categorization of the forests into the four groups.

[4] Amrita Devi (main protagonist)along with Bishnoi villagers in Khejarli and surrounding villages.

[5] The Chipko Andolan an eco-feminist movement in Gopeshwar, Chamoli District, Uttarakhand

[6] The Appiko movement, motivated by tree-hugging Chipko community forest campaign in the north, continues its campaign against deforestation not just in Uttar Kannada but also in adjoining central highlands in Karnataka & Kerala.

[7] in Jharkhand's Singhbhum district (formerly a district of Indian in the colonial rule, portion of a Chota Nagpur District of the Bombay Presidency) protested the government's forest policy.

[8] Baba Amte (1914-2008) and Medha Patkar is an Indian activist and the initiators of The Save the Narmada Movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA).

[9] "No person be denied of his life or personal liberty unless for the procedure established by law," according to Article 21.

[10] M.C. Mehta VS. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 734; B.L. Wadehra VS. Union of India AIR 1996 SC 2969

[11] The term 'life' and the right to life have been construed as encompassing numerous rights, such as the right to live in a healthier environment, the right to have a decent life, etc Similarly, the phrase 'personal liberty' has been extensively construed as including the opportunity to go abroad, the right to privacy, the right to have a reputation, etc. In essence, there is convergence between two expressions, and the distinction between them has nearly disappeared.

[12] Subhash Kumar VS State of Bihar AIR 1991 SC 420,424

[13] Olga Tellis VS. MCD Bom, AIR 1986 SC 180

[14] Enshrines the right to equality before law and protects a person against arbitrary or unreasonable state action.

[15] Ajay Hasia VS. Khalid Mujib Shervadi AIR 1981 SC 487,499

[16] State of HP VS. Ganesh Wood Products AIR 1996 C 149,159,163

[17] Article 19(1)(g) stipulates that "all citizens shall have the right—-to pursue any occupation or carry on any employment, trade, or business."

[18] Sushila Sawmill VS. State of ORIYA AIR 1995 SC 2484

[19] T. Damodar Rao VS Special Officer, MCD Hyderabad,AIR 1987 AP 171,181

[20] Mohan Kumar Singhania & Ors. v. UOI & Ors.,1992 SCC 594

[21] T.N. Godavarman Thirumalpad v. UOI & Ors.,(2002) 10 SCC 606

[22] Articles 246 and 254, Constitution of India

[23]  The Environment (Protection) Act of 1986; the Water(Prevention and Control of Pollution)Act of 1974; the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981, and so forth.


[24] Om Birangana Religious Society VS State (1996) 100 Cal WN 627

[25] Prof. M.P. Jain accurately maintains in his book that if the Central Government engages into any international commitment, Parliament is entirely entitled to adopt laws to accomplish it, regardless of whether the subject-matter comes under the State List.

[26] State of Gujarat VS. Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab Jamat, AIR 2006 SC 212,pp 242,243

[27] Animal Welfare Board OF India VS. A Nagaraja(2014) 7 SCC 547

[28] As environment is defined under section 2(a) of the Environment (Protection)Act 1986.


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