constitutional provisions for environmental protection

Constitutional Provisions for Environmental Protection – An Account of Environmental Jurisprudence in India

constitutional provisions for environmental protection

Origin and development of environmental jurisprudence in India

Environmental jurisprudence in India has its origins in the country’s constitutional framework, which recognizes the importance of protecting the environment for future generations. The Constitution of India provides a strong legal foundation for environmental protection in India through a combination of provisions in the Preamble, Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), Fundamental Duties and the Right to Life.

The development of environmental jurisprudence in India began in the 1970s, with the need for comprehensive legislation to address environmental problems. The Indian government by enacting the Water(Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in 1981, provided a framework for the protection and preservation of the country’s water and air resources.

In the late 1980s and 90s, we have seen a significant expansion in environmental legislations, such as the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, and the Public Liability Insurance Act 1991. These laws were specifically designed to protect our forests, wildlife and to hold industries accountable for environmental damage.

The Environment Protection Act (epa) enacted in 1986 is one of the most comprehensive legislations in India in connection with the protection and improvement of the environment.

Further, another milestone in the history of environmental jurisprudence in India was the recognition of the principle of sustainable development by the Indian judiciary. In the landmark case, MC Mehta v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India declared that sustainable development was a constitutional mandate.

In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India, the Court observed “the Precautionary Principle” and “the Polluter Pays Principle” are essential features of “Sustainable Development.” Further, it is important to mention here that the Public Interest Litigations under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution resulted in a wave of environmental litigations.

In view of the above, it can be said that environmental jurisprudence in India has a long history and has evolved over time to respond to the changing needs of the country and its environment.

Constitutional provisions for Environmental Protection

The constitution of India is a living document, which has evolved and grown up with time. The provisions on environmental protection in the constitution are the result of this evolving nature. The preamble to our constitution ensures a socialist pattern of society. In this regard, maintaining a decent standard of life and a pollution-free environment is an essential element of a socialist principle. 

The Constitution of India provides a strong legal foundation for environmental protection in India through a combination of provisions in the preamble, Directive Principles of State Policy, Fundamental Duties and the Right to Life.

The Preamble of the Indian Constitution begins by stating that the people of India solemnly resolve to constitute India into a socialist country. It indicates that the basic aim of the Preamble is socialism and it is the responsibility of the state to make the environment free from all forms of pollution. Further, it includes not only a pollution-free environment but also a decent standard of living for all living beings. Secondly, India intends to secure freedom which includes securing justice. Thus, citizens have a right to environmental justice.             

The chapter on fundamental duties of the Indian Constitution imposes certain duties on every citizen to protect the environment. Article 51-A (g) 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.

The Directive principles under the Indian constitution are directed towards building a welfare state. As a healthy environment is an element of the welfare state and the improvement of the environment without public health cannot be assured, Article 47 provides that the State shall raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and improve public health.

Further, Article 48 deals with the organization of agriculture and animal husbandry. It directs the State to take steps to organize agriculture and animal husbandry with the help of state-of-the-art technologies. Again, Article 48 -A of the constitution states that “the state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country”.

In Sher Singh vs Himachal Pradesh, it was held that the citizens of the country have a fundamental right to a wholesome, clean and decent environment. The Constitution of India, in respect of Article 48-A, mandates that the State is under a Constitutional obligation to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forest and wildlife.

The Constitution of India under Part – III, guarantees fundamental rights, where Articles 21, 14 and 19 of this part have been used for environmental protection. The Article 21 of the constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. It indicates that Article 21 guarantees the right to life, where the right to the environment, is inherent in it. The right to live in a healthy environment as part of Article 21 was first recognized in the case of Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra vs State of UP. 

In M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court treated the right to live in a pollution-free environment as a part of the fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

Excessive noise creates pollution in society. The constitution of India under Article 19 (1) (a) read with Article 21 of the constitution guarantees a right to live peacefully. In PA Jacob vs. The Superintendent of Police Kottayam, it was held that freedom of speech under article 19 (1)(a)  does not include freedom to use loudspeakers.  Thus, noise pollution caused by loudspeakers can be controlled under Article 19 (1) (a). 

Article 19 (1) (g) of the Indian constitution confers a fundamental right on every citizen to practice any profession, occupation, trade or business.  This is subject to reasonable restrictions. A citizen cannot carry on any business activity if it is hazardous to society.

Importantly, the Public Interest Litigations under Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution resulted in a wave of environmental litigations. In Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India, the Court observed that “the Precautionary Principle” and “the Polluter Pays Principle” are essential features of “Sustainable Development.”


The Constitution of India provides a strong legal framework for environmental protection, and the Supreme Court and the High Courts have used this framework to enforce environmental protection and ensure that citizens have access to a clean and healthy environment. The constitutional provisions mandates for environmental protection serve as a foundation for India’s environmental protection regime.

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