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Published : April 19, 2011 | Author : verashrivastav
Category : Environmental Law | Total Views : 5484 | Unrated

Vera Shrivastav

Human Rights Dimension of Healthy Environment:
Judicial Response In India

Man and nature have, since the inception of mankind, shared a symbiotic relationship. Each individual is entitled to a healthy environment. It is a sad truth that our ideals of a healthy environment are diminishing by the day as urban areas grow with the increase in the industrial buzz , resulting in environmental deterioration.

International Scenario:
The Stockholm declaration in 1972 emphasised that man’s environment is essential to his well being and to the enjoyment of his basic human rights including the right to life. In 1986, the United Nations General Assembly recognised the relationship between the quality of human environment and the enjoyment of basic human rights [resolution 2398 in (1986)]. Moreover Agenda 21, an outcome of the Rio conference in 1992 relating to sustainable development, called for the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all and a safer, more promising future.

Article 21 of the Constitution of India enshrines the fundamental right to life and personal liberty of a person. This right to life has been rightly interpreted to include the right to a healthy environment. This aspect was first addressed in the landmark case of Charan Lal Sahu v. Union of India (AIR 1990 SC 1480). In another case, the Court observed that right to life also includes the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life. High levels of noise at unwarranted hours also encroach upon a person’s healthy environment. The rights of miners and factory workers to name a few are often encroached. The precautionary principle has also been invoked by Indian Courts, such as in Taz Trapezium case, to anticipate and prevent the causes of environmental degradation and therefore ensure a healthy environment.

Another expansion of the right to life is the right to livelihood as enshrined under Article 41 of the Constitution as a part of the directive principles of state policy. There has been a rise in the dislocation of poor and indigenous persons and disruption of their livelihood along with the rise in economic development. This extension can check governmental actions. In Kirloskar Bros Ltd. v. ESI Corporation , the court included the right to livelihood as an extension of Article 21.

The doctrine of Public Trust, precautionary principle and polluter pays principle have also been applied by the Indian Judiciary on various counts keeping in mind sustainable development and intergenerational equity and optimum management of our natural resources.

In M.C. Mehta (Badkhal and Surajkund Lakes Matter) v. Union of India and Oths. (1997) 3 SCC 715: it was opined that preventive measures have to be taken keeping in view the carrying capacity of the ecosystems operating in the environmental surroundings under consideration. In the case of The Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996) 5 SCC 647, the court followed the Brundtland Commission definition of sustainable development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.

The Constitution (forty second amendment) Act 1976 has incorporated environmental protection as a part of state policy. The directive principles of state policy provide that the state has a duty to protect and preserve the ecosystem. More specifically, Article 48A states that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. Moreover, Article 51A (g) imposes a similar responsibility on every citizen 'to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures. Collations of these two provisions along with the inherent right under Article 21 provide strong protection and responsibility to the citizens of India to ensure sustainable development and intergenerational equity.

In my opinion, a healthy environment should mean to include living in a sate of psychological and physiological harmony with nature as was surely intended. The degree of environmental deterioration we are bringing upon ourselves and future generations needs to be tackled now by giving priority to the basic human rights of people in the form of a whole and healthy environment. It should not only be something we demand but also so inherent in our lives that, at the risk of being melodramatic, it comes as natural as the process of breathing.

Authors contact info - articles The  author can be reached at: verashrivastav@legalserviceindia.com

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