Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 18 April 2024

A right bestowed by the Court

Relevance: GS Paper II & III

Why in News?

In a historic judgment in M.K. Ranjitsinh & Ors. vs. Union of India regarding the conservation of two critically endangered bird species, the Great Indian Bustard ( GIB) and the Lessor Florican, the Supreme Court expanded the umbrella of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. It acknowledged that people have a 'right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change'.

Background of the case:

  • In its order dated 19 April 2021, the court imposed restrictions on setting up overhead transmission lines in a vast area of about 99,000 sq km in the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
    • The Ministry of Power, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy had applied for modification of the order.
  • While considering an appeal for the modification of its order, the Court acknowledged that its earlier order was not feasible to implement and directed experts to assess the feasibility of underground power lines in specific areas after considering factors such as terrain, population density, and infrastructure requirements.
  • Referring to environment-related aspects of the Directive Principles of State Policy, the Court observed that these must be read together with the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21.

M.K. Ranjitsinh & Ors. Vs Union of India - Judgement:

  • Expansion of the scope of Articles 14 and 21: For the first time, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of Articles 14 and 21 to include categorically the ‘right against adverse effects of climate change.’
    • A three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud observed that Article 21 recognises the right to life and personal liberty, while Article 14 indicates that all persons shall have equality before law and equal protection of law.
    • These articles are important sources of the right to a clean environment and the right against the adverse effects of climate change.
  • Integrating human rights considerations into climate action: The Supreme Court has acknowledged Article 21 as the heart of fundamental rights in the Constitution and noted that the intersection of climate change and human rights has been sharply focused in recent years, underscoring the imperative for states to address climate impacts through the lens of rights.
  • Need to transition towards cleaner energy: The Court emphasised the need for renewable energy sources in Rajasthan and Gujarat to meet rising power demand efficiently and sustainably while also adhering to India's international climate change commitments.
  • Fragmented nature of existing environmental laws: Parliament has already enacted a plethora of laws: the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, last amended in February 2024; the Air ( Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, last amended in 1987; the Environment ( Protection ) Act 1986; the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, last amended in 2022; and the India Forest Act, 1927, last amended in 2019.
    • However, none of these legislations addressed the right against adverse effects of climate change.
    • Implementation of these laws is also a challenge for the administration. Rationalisation and simplification of laws are urgent.
    • The Supreme Court has mandated umbrella legislation to ensure better protection of the environment and healthy lives for citizens.
  • Heightened vulnerability of certain sections: The Court also observed that certain sections of society, including the poorer, tribal, and indigenous communities, become all the more vulnerable to climate change.

Prior judicial interventions:

  • In 1992, Justice Jeevan Reddy stated in Indira Sawhney vs. Union of India that the creators of the Constitution not only focused on evolving the state framework but also set the goal and methodology for achieving it. 
    • They outlined the goal in the preamble and elaborated on the methodology in Parts III and IV.
  • In 1996, in M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, the Supreme Court observed that any disturbance of basic environmental elements, namely, air, water, and soil, which are necessary for life, would be hazardous to life and could not be polluted.
    • Article 21 is the fountainhead of rights, and the apex court has also invented emerging new rights from its scope and implications and also in the context of norms developed by the United Nations and other International forums.

Constitutional background of environmental protection and conservation:

  • Article 48A directed the State to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the country's forests and wildlife.
  • Article 51A (g) enumerates a fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.
  • Both articles, inserted by the 42nd Constitution Amendment Act 1976, also made certain changes to the 7th Schedule of the Constitution.
    • This Schedule contains three lists, namely Union, State and Concurrent, to enumerate matters on which the Centre, the State, and both can make laws.
    • Entry 17 A - forests, 17B - Protection of wild animals and birds, 20 A - Population control and family planning have been added to the concurrent list, empowering both the Centre and State to make laws and policies on these matters.

International efforts to address environmental challenges:

  • The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, Sweden, aims to raise environmental awareness and promote national and international actions to ensure sustainable economic growth and conservation of natural resources. 
    • Climate change is a significant global challenge, and the conference emphasises the importance of long-term environmental protection and conservation for the entire human community and the environment.
  • The Earth Summit, 1992 in Rio De Janeiro emphasised two aspects to ensure a better environment:
    • Conservation and sustainable use of biological diversities.
    • Protection of the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of mankind.
  • In 2015, the United Nations FrameWork Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was successfully conducted in Paris. The Paris Agreement sets a roadmap for all nations in the world to take action against climate change in the post-2020 period.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015. They guide the international community and national governments on a pathway towards sustainable development for the next fifteen years.
  • In 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognising ‘the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment’ as a ‘human right that is important for the enjoyment of human rights’. 
    • Later, in 2022, the UN General Assembly also adopted a resolution recognising the same right.


The Supreme Court has acknowledged the right of nature and other living beings to be protected from aggression in the name of development. It emphasises the need for sustainable development and the collective effort of the human community to ensure their rights to live meaningful lives while fortifying environmental jurisprudence in line with the Constitution. India's $5 trillion economy and Viksit Bharat vision must align with the judgment's spirit. Parliament may consider comprehensive legislation to implement the judgment's spirit.

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