To protect and improve the environment is a constitutional mandate. It is the commitment for a country wedded to the ideas of a welfare State.
The Indian constitution contains specific provisions for environmental protection under the chapters of Directive Principles of the State Policy and Fundamental Duties.
The absence of any specific provision in the Constitution recognizing the fundamental right to (clean and wholesome) environment has been set off by judicial activism in the recent times.
• Article 51 A (g): says that “It shall be duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life and to have compassion for living creatures”.
• Article 48 A: focuses on protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life. This article says: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country”.
• 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.” Protection and improvement of environment is necessary for improving the public health.
• Article 48: directs the state to take steps to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines.
• Article 21: says no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”, has been subject to maximum scrutiny by Supreme Court, which has mandated for more than once that the right to environment, free of danger of disease and infection are inherent in this act.
• The right to healthy environment was first recognized by Supreme Court as inherent in Article 21 in the Dehradun Quarrying Case in 1988. In this case, Supreme Court gave direction to stop quarrying under Environment Protection Act. Similarly, the M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, 1987 case also, the Supreme Court treated the right to live in pollution free environment as a fundamental right inherent under Article 21.
• Supreme Court has also interpreted Article 19(1) to tackle the menace of noise pollution. The court has maintained in PA Jacob case 1993 that freedom of speech does not include freedom to use loud speakers or sound amplifiers.
• Further, Article 19(1) (g) confers the fundamental right over citizens to practice any occupation, trade or business. But this fundamental right is subject to reasonable restrictions and citizens can not practice the business activities that cause health hazards to public.
• Apart from the above, Supreme Court (Via Article 32) and High Courts (Via Article 226) have frequently admitted to public interest litigation related to environment.