Environmental Law: Human Rights Perspective in India



The term environmental law and human rights are inter-related as both are concerned with development and promotion of human welfare. Consistent with Merriam-Webster dictionary the term Environment is defined as the complex of physical, chemical and biotic factors that influence an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival.[1] The term environment is additionally defined under the section 2(a) of The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, consistent with this the “Environment” includes water, air and land and therefore the inter-relationship which exists among and between water and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, microorganism, and property.[2] Talking about the human rights, are those rights which are inherited from the time of birth and lasts till the top of the life (such as right to life, liberty, freedom from slavery and many more). These rights are considered as the most essential rights of an individual and recognized as the mandatory rights at the international level.

International Environmental Conventions-

There were several conventions took place in order to protect environment and in order to provide new environmental laws with the change of time.

  1. Stockholm Declaration (1972)-

The UN[3] took its first official step towards the protection of environment, by organizing Stockholm Declaration which took place between 5th of June 1972 to 16th of June 1972. It was the first to talk about the relation between human rights and environment at an international level. The meeting lays down 26 principles concerning the environment and its development, such as- Natural resources must be safeguarded, Human rights must be asserted, apartheid, and colonialism condemned, and many more. After this UNEP[4] was set up and 5th of June is celebrated as World Environment Day.

  • Rio Declaration (1992)-

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is also known as the Earth Summit. The conference lays down 27 principles intended to guide countries in future sustainable development. This declaration dealt with the peace, development and environmental protection. It confronted that the states should resolve all their disputes related to environment peacefully and by appropriate means in accordance with the Charter of U.N.

  • World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002)-

It took place in South Africa from 26th of Aug to 4th of Sept 2002. It took place 10 years after the Rio Declaration, hence, it is also informally known as “Rio+10”. This summit was mainly focused on achieving sustainable development in respect for human right and environment. It focuses on the rule of law, good governance and public participation in order to make decision to the environment protection.

  • United Nation General Assembly Summit (2010)-

It took place in New York from 20th to 22nd Sept of 2010. In this conference, sanitation and clean drinking water became the part of human rights, as it is essential for the full enjoyment of life. The main aim of this summit was to eradicate poverty by 2015.

Constitutional Provisions-

The need of protection and conservation of the environment can be seen under the framework of the Indian Constitution.

  1. Article 48A-

Article 48A of the Indian Constitution deals with the protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife.[5] It comes under the purview of DPSP.[6] This article lays down some duties on the part f State in order to protect the environment from pollution by using appropriate measures.

  • Article 51A(g)-

This article states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures”.[7]

  • Article 21-

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution deals with the protection of life and personal liberty of an individual. This article has been interpreted in various cases in order to protection of the environment. In the case of M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India[8] the scope of article 21 was enlarged. This was the case of an oleum gas leak from Shriram Food and Fertilizers Ltd. Delhi, which took place just after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy and created a havoc kind situation in India. In this case Supreme Court stated that the right to life includes living in a pollution-free environment and free from diseases.

Legislation related to Environment Protection-

Today the apex administrative body in the country for regulating and ensuring environmental protection and the legal framework is Ministry of Environment and Forests. It was established in the year of 1985. The MOEF and CPCB[9] and SPCB[10] together form the regulatory and administrative core of the sector.

Important legislations for protection of environment such as-

  1. The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
  2. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.
  3. The Water (Prevention and Control Of pollution) Act, 1974.
  4. The Environment Protection Act, 1986.
  5. The Hazardous Waste Management Regulations, and many more.


There is saying that where there are rights there are duties also. Hence to use natural resources as a personal use or public then it is our duty to protect the environment too.

[1] Environment definition by- Merriam-Webster. Environment | Definition of Environment by Merriam-Webster

[2] Section 2(a) of The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Section 2(a) in The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (indiankanoon.org)

[3] United Nations.

[4] United Nations Environment Programme.  

[5] Article 48A of the Indian Constitution. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/871328/

[6] Directive Principles of State Policy.

[7] Article 51A(g) of Indian Constitution. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/867010/

[8] M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India 1987 SCR (1) 819.

[9] Central Pollution Control Board.

[10] State Pollution Control Board.

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