Supreme Court Expands Constitutional Rights to Include Protection Against Climate Change Effects

Supreme Court expands constitutional rights, including protection against climate change effects, affirming right to clean environment & life. Landmark ruling emphasizes environmental preservation in upholding fundamental human rights.

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of India has broadened the interpretation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution to encompass the "right against the adverse effects of climate change." The three-judge bench, led by Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, emphasized the constitutional significance of environmental protection and recognized the interconnectedness between environmental rights and fundamental human rights.

Referring to Article 48A and Clause (g) of Article 51A of the Constitution, the bench highlighted the state's duty to protect and improve the environment, as well as the responsibility of citizens to safeguard natural resources. Although these provisions are not directly enforceable, they serve as indicators of the Constitution's recognition of the importance of environmental conservation.

The court asserted, "The importance of the environment becomes a right in other parts of the Constitution," citing Article 21's recognition of the right to life and personal liberty and Article 14's guarantee of equality before the law. These constitutional provisions, according to the court, establish the basis for the right to a clean environment and protection against the adverse impacts of climate change.

Despite acknowledging existing governmental policies and regulations addressing climate change, the court noted the absence of comprehensive legislation specifically addressing climate change and its consequences in India. However, it underscored that the lack of specific legislation does not negate the people's right to protection against the adverse effects of climate change.

The court emphasized the intrinsic link between a clean environment, the right to life, and public health. It identified various environmental challenges such as air pollution, shifts in disease patterns, extreme weather events, and food shortages resulting from climate change, which directly impact citizens' well-being and violate their constitutional rights to life and equality.

The case before the bench centered on the protection of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) and its habitat from the encroachment of power transmission lines. In a previous ruling dated April 19, 2021, the Supreme Court had imposed restrictions on the construction of overhead transmission lines in a vast area and proposed the conversion of such lines into underground systems.

Subsequently, the Ministries of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, Power, and New and Renewable Energy sought modifications to the court's directives, citing India's international commitments to renewable energy and technical challenges associated with underground power lines. Acknowledging the complexities involved, the bench allowed the request and established a committee of experts tasked with assessing the feasibility of undergrounding power lines in specific areas.

Highlighting India's renewable energy goals, the court emphasized the country's commitment to clean energy adoption and environmental preservation. It acknowledged the socio-economic benefits of investing in renewable energy and underscored the necessity of balancing environmental conservation with renewable energy objectives.

The Supreme Court's ruling represents a significant advancement in environmental jurisprudence, affirming the constitutional right to protection against the adverse effects of climate change. By interpreting Articles 14 and 21 expansively, the court underscores the imperative of environmental conservation in upholding fundamental human rights and ensuring the well-being of present and future generations.