Pollution simply refers to the introduction of harmful substances, known as pollutants, into the environment. It has multiple manifestations, majorly, air, water, noise, and soil pollution. Each has its effects on the well-being of an individual. Air pollution is often associated with asthma, pulmonary illnesses, heart disease, and even cancer while contaminated water can result in diseases like cholera, dysentery, typhoid, polio, and others. We cannot expect to have a decent standard of living in a polluted environment which is why the need for a wholesome environment has been emphasized time and again.
INTERNATIONAL AND MUNICIPAL RECOGNITION
The United Nations Conference on Human Environment, 1972 held in Stockholm, Sweden exacerbated the recognition of the right to a wholesome environment. Principle 1 of this declaration states, “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being…”.On 28th July 2022, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that access to a clean and healthy environment is a basic human right. Indeed, it was a critical decision given the fact that pollution has become one of the greatest and growing global concerns.
The municipal law of India also recognizes the right to a clean environment as is reflected by Article 47 which requires the state among other things, to improve public health. It follows that this constitutional mandate can be accomplished by ensuring access to a clean environment which is also the duty of the state under Article 48-A of the Constitution.
ARTICLE 21: RIGHT TO AN UNPOLLUTED ENVIRONMENT
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution reads, “No person shall be deprived of his right to life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” The operation of Article 21 cannot be confined only to the right to life. The right to live, if not accompanied by other rights, would have no meaning at all. Therefore, the right to life has been judicially interpreted over the years to include, inter alia, the right to privacy, right to livelihood and, the right to education. It has a wider scope and application. A polluted and unclean environment is injurious to the health of an individual as it results in the contraction of several diseases as aforementioned. A dignified life demands a sound body and mind which is inconceivable in contaminated surroundings. Article 21 cannot be exercised in its true sense if there is a want of access to a wholesome environment. The pronouncement of the Supreme Court in RLE Kendra Dehradun v State of U.P (Doon Valley Case) brought the right to a pollution-free environment within the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution.
FACTS OF THE CASE
In 1983, an NGO namely Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra wrote a letter to the Apex Court alleging that illegal limestone quarrying was being carried on in Mussoorie-Dehradun region. The letter also suggested that this activity was disturbing the ecological balance in the area as extensive deforestation resulted in a lack of vegetation which in turn led to frequent landslides. Finally, it was ordered to treat the letter as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution. The Bhargava committee was appointed and it classified the mines into A, B and C. The court ordered that the C-category mines should be closed altogether. However, the mines that operated outside city limits were permitted to operate. The court entertained the case for about six years and passed the final verdict in 1988. While the case was being considered, the Environment Protection Act, 1986 was enacted. It declared the area in question as ecologically delicate.
- Whether mining in the region in question violates the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as the Act prohibits non-forest activities in the forest area without the prior sanction of the Central Government.
- Should economic growth be prioritized over ecological protection?
The petitioners argued that the mining was violating their right to live in a healthy environment and was destroying the spring water. The respondents contended that the issue should be entrusted to administrative authorities as directed by the Environment Protection Act. This contention was rejected by the court which argued that the litigation had already begun, necessary orders had been passed and so, the case cannot be put to a halt. The respondents also argued that the manufacturing industry would suffer a blow if the mining operations are stopped.
The final verdict in 1988 specified that if mining is permitted in the area, it would be in contravention of the provisions of The Forest Conservation Act, 1980. The court ordered the closure of all the mines in the Doon Valley except three operations. However, the operation was to be allowed in a manner so as not to destroy further the fragile balance in the area. It was held that the mining area should be reforested once the period of lease is over and the same should be supervised by the Monitoring Committee in order to see that normalcy is brought back to the region. The court also provided that the mine owners who are aggrieved by this judgement should be rehabilitated.
This case marks a watershed in recognizing the right to live in a wholesome environment as part of Article 21. In the instant case, the Apex Court did not explicitly recognize that the illegal limestone quarrying violated the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, however, the recognition of the letter as a writ petition and the order of closure of the mines suggests that the court impliedly admitted that the mining activities in the area were violating the fundamental right of the petitioners under Article 21 of the Constitution. Also, the provision for rehabilitation of the affected lessees by the Hon’ble Court is worthy of appreciation.
A clean and healthy environment is a sine-qua-non to live a life with dignity which is a component of Article 21 of the Constitution. Any activity which interferes with this right must be declared as violative of Article 21 and should be immediately wound up with simultaneous provisions for rehabilitation. It is also submitted that the state should take all possible measures to improve the environment, ensuring a dignified life for humans and an undisturbed habitat for flora and fauna.
Author(s) Name: Tanzeela Hassan