Right to Clean and Healthy Environment under Indian Constitution: An Analysis

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Everyone has a desire to dwell in the Clean and healthy environment. It is the nature’s gift to human being. Air, water and land are the indispensable elements for all living beings on Earth. It is said that a healthier environment leads to a healthier brain. According to the scientists, in order to maintain stronger and better lasting memory, one needs to live in clean and healthy environment. But over a period of time, the environment is getting polluted and detrimental because of human activities, the effect of which is also borne by other elements of environment. Over the period of time, it has been recognised as a human right all over the world. It is not an individual right but a collective right, belonging to such groups, whose culture depend on the environment for their existence and perpetuity.[1]

Right to clean and healthy environment has been inserted under the ambit of article 21 by the judicial decisions

In Indian scenario, this right has been recognised by the legal system and higher judiciary. Article 21 has always been interpreted in a broad manner. Article 21 provides the right to life or personal Liberty except according to procedure established by law. Time and again, judiciary through its various judicial pronouncements have expanded the scope of Article 21 by adding rights which are integral to dignified life, for example, right to education has been included in Article 21 by adding Article 21A. Similarly, right to clean and healthy environment has also been interpreted within Article 21 of constitution through Following popular cases.

The area of article 21 has been considerably expanded by the supreme court which has interpreted the right to life to mean the right to civilized right and it includes the right to clean environment.

· Subhash Kumar Vs. State of Bihar

In this case, the petitioner asked the court to take legal action against the company which polluted Bokaro river by dumping waste, when state pollution board also did not take appropriate measures for preventing this pollution. But the court dismissed the petition on the ground of petitioner’s self interest. However, the court observed that the article 21 includes right of enjoyment of pollution free water and air for full enjoyment of life. Court also recognised that the whole environment is part of our fundamental right to life. The municipalities and governmental agencies may be compelled to take positive measures to improve the environment.

· Rural litigation and environment Kendra Dehradun Vs state of Uttar Pradesh

In this case, the letter written by petitioner was treated as a public interest litigation under article 32 of the constitution. The letter stated that the illegal limestone mining in Dehradun region was causing damage to fragile eco system. Here, the court ordered the closure of number of limestone quarries. Although court did not explicitly mention the violation of fundamental right but the actions showed the implied admission of violation of right to life of people under article 21 of the constitution.

· M.C. Mehta Vs Union of India (Vehicular Pollution Case)

This is the major landmark case in India. The petition was filed by M.C Mehta under article 21 and 32 of the constitution and sought the closure and relocation of factory located in a thickly populated area of Delhi. The factory was engaged in manufacturing of hazardous substance during its operation. The issues arose when the oleum gas leaked from this factory caused the death of an advocate and adversely affected the health of several others.

The court showed the deep concern for the safety of people along with the development of economy. The supreme court was of the opinion that the permanent closure of public utility industry would lead to slowdown the growth of developmental activities as well as generate the unemployment, poverty and social issues also. The court suggested to relocate the factory with certain conditions, with a view to eliminate the risk which ensures continuous compliance with the safety standards and procedures laid by the committee. The court directed the government to make national policy which ensures certain quality standard and further, to make laws on management and handling of hazardous substances including procedure to set up and run industry with minimal risk to human, animals etc. The industry cannot absolve itself from the liability on the ground that they were not negligent in their operations or had taken reasonable precautions. In this case, the principle of no-fault liability was applied.

· T.N. Godavarman thirumulpad Vs. Union of India

This case is concerned with the conservation of forests. Justice Y.K Sabharwal held that the legislative measures have shifted the responsibility from states to centre. Any threat to the ecology would adversely affect the lives of living being and thus, violate the right to life under article 21 of the constitution. The constitution enjoins upon this court a duty to protect the environment.

· Murli S. Deora Vs. Union of India

In this case, the court had given the judgement in the interest of passive smokers. Every citizen has right to life and no one can deprive the person from his fundamental rights. so, there is no reason that non smokers become the victim of whole process. Therefore, the court held that till the legislative enactment, it would be in interest of the citizens to prohibit smoking in public places and person not indulging in smoking cannot be compelled to passive smoking on account of the act of the smokers.


At present, we all are facing grave environmental problems. One of the most difficult problems faced by our generation is to maintain the sustainable development and pollution free environment. Poverty, increasing population etc. are some of the major factors which impede the maintenance of environment. Many legal and social steps have been taken by the government and people to maintain the clean and healthy environment. The directive principle of state policy Article 48-A and 51-A (g) have been inserted in the constitution, which impose a duty on the state and citizens of the state to protect and conserve the environment.

For Important Case Laws of Environmental Law, Click Here.

For more articles on Environmental Law, Click Here.

For law notes, Click Here.


[1] cullet, Philippe, “definition of an environment right in a human rights context:” p.2. international environmental law research centre.

Author Details: Madhavi Bohra

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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