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Right to Clean Environment

Updated: Sep 25, 2020


The right to have a clean environment is a basic necessity but this ought to be a luxury for most of the people dwelling in an urban area or metro Politian cities like New Delhi. New Delhi, the capital city of India also turns out to be a capital in most polluted cities of the country. For instance, air quality index statistics of 2019 shows that average AQI in New Delhi was 195 rated unhealthy to inhale whereas normal AQI should be at as or less than 100. Thanks to novel coronavirus which almost made our life standstill leading to a reduction of AQI to 112 but, is still unhealthy for sensitive groups. A clean environment is fundamental for human existence inclusive of pollution-free environment, prevention of destruction of resources namely trees, plants, water, wildlife, etc.

International Context

A clean environment has always been a human right but this was neglected until Second World War out broke leading to the formation of the United Nations and numerous other treaties for the conservation of international peace and security, environment protection, sustainable development.

UN contributed to the field of the environment through these major conferences. Stockholm conference,1972, established United Nations Environment Programme which gave 22 principles for environmental protection and sustainable development a stepping stone towards a clean and healthy environment. Later, Rio conference was held in 1992 established a Commission on Sustainable Development giving Agenda 21 suggesting ways to governments of nations for sustainable development.

Indian Context

In India where nearly half of the population lives in the abject condition, it becomes imperative to pave the path for their right to clean environment. The legislature is actively formulating acts to patch up with environmental problems. Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1974 enacted to maintain or restore the wholesomeness of water. It appoints, constitutes a board (central and state) for prevention and control of water pollution. Similarly, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act,1981 came into force to curb air pollution. The Environmental (protection) act,1986 empowers the central government to establish authorities to protect the environment, Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) Rules laying down restriction of the loudspeaker on various occasions, wildlife protection act, National green tribunal was set up to adjudicate environmental issues.

Right to clean environment under Indian constitution

Constitution was enacted with a prime motive of the welfare state to promote the prosperity and well being of people. Founding fathers of the constitution concerning environmental protection added various provisions under fundamental rights further with amendments provisions were added to Directive principles of state policy and fundamental duties.

Under Fundamental Right

Article 21 of the Indian constitution reads as “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law". Maneka Gandhi v. U.o.i giving a new dimension to right to life Justice PN Bhagwati said the attempt of the court should be to expand the reach and ambit of Fundamental rights rather than to attenuate their meaning and content by a process of judicial construction. Article 21 is to be interpreted in the widest possible manner. Hence, Article 21 includes in its wide umbrella right to clean environment, pollution-free air, water, etc.

Case Laws

It was held in PIL of Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar maintainable for ensuring enjoyment of pollution-free water and air which is included in the "right to life" under article 21 of the Indian constitution.

Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra Dehradun and others v. State of U.P. and others (1985) SC held that limestone quarries in Mussoorie causes hazards to the environment and ordered to close quarries worse affecting the environment.

Under Directive Principles of State Policy

Part IV DPSP are ideals that should be taken into account while formulating any policy or passing of a law. Article 48-A added by 42nd amendment of the constitution, 1976, which reads as protection and improvement of forest and wildlife of the country. By Article 37 this becomes non-enforceable in a court of law. But many times Supreme Court has directed the government to act according to ideals laid down by DPSP. In MC Mehta v. U.O.I it was held that appropriate steps to control pollution of water should be taken.

Supreme court expressing its great concern in S. Jagannath v. U.O.I (1997) on the preservation of seacoast and beaches on coastal areas held an activity that affects degrading the environment cannot be permitted.

Under Fundamental Duties

Part IVA of the constitution added by the virtue of 42nd amendment, 1976. Recommended by Swaran Singh Committee, specifying fundamental duties for citizens to be followed. Article 51A(g) reads it shall be the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forest, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for a living creature. With this Environment Protection Act,1986 was enacted.


Rights and duties are coexistent. Where there is a right there equally lays duty to fulfill those rights. If the governmental authorities have to protect our right to clean the environment then it is our duty as well to act according to guidelines laid down by respective authoritative boards. There is ample legislation enacted but it is on us not to waive our right to a clean and healthy environment.

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