Q. “The most significant achievement of modern law in India is the constitutionalization of environmental problems by the Supreme Court.” Discuss this statement with the help of relevant case laws.
Ans: The statement highlights the pivotal role that the Indian Supreme Court has played in addressing and safeguarding environmental concerns through its interpretation and enforcement of the Constitution. This judicial activism has led to several landmark judgments that have not only established environmental protection as a fundamental right but have also shaped environmental jurisprudence in the country.
- Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996): In this case, the Supreme Court emphasized the polluter pays principle and held that Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Indian Constitution includes the right to a healthy environment. The court ruled that industries have an obligation to compensate for any harm caused to the environment, and it imposed strict liability on polluting industries.
- M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1986): This case is often cited as a significant example of judicial activism in environmental matters. The court, in response to a petition regarding the pollution of the Ganges river, issued orders to close down several polluting industries. This case laid the foundation for the “Public Trust Doctrine,” which holds that natural resources are held in trust by the state for the benefit of the public.
- Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (1991): The court, in this case, recognized the right to a pollution-free environment as an integral part of the right to life under Article 21. It established the principle that any act that is likely to violate the environment or ecology is a violation of the fundamental right to life.
- Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India (1996): This case emphasized the principle of sustainable development and held that the right to a healthy environment is a fundamental right under Article 21. It highlighted the need to balance development and environmental protection.
- A.P. Pollution Control Board v. Prof. M.V. Nayudu (2001): The court reiterated the importance of the “Polluter Pays” principle and held that industries causing environmental degradation must pay compensation for the damage caused.
- T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India (2012): This case focused on the protection of forests and biodiversity. The court established the concept of “intergenerational equity” and directed the closure of illegal mining and unauthorized construction within forests.
- Centre for Public Interest Litigation v. Union of India (2011): The court took a strong stance against illegal mining in Goa and Karnataka, emphasizing the importance of sustainable mining practices and environmental conservation.
These case laws collectively reflect the Indian Supreme Court’s significant contribution to the constitutionalization of environmental problems. The court’s interpretations and judgments have expanded the scope of fundamental rights to encompass the right to a healthy environment, established principles of environmental protection, and ensured the accountability of both the government and private entities in safeguarding the environment.
The Supreme Court’s role is indeed substantial, addressing environmental challenges also requires effective legislative and executive action, as well as public awareness and participation. The court’s interventions are complementary to a comprehensive approach to environmental protection and sustainability.
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