Environmental Protection under the Constitutional Framework of India



The environment is an important part of our life, without which the living thongs couldn’t survive on earth. However, a rapid increase in various forms of pollution is disrupting the ecosystem and causing damage to living begins.

Living in a pollution free environment is not only a basic human right, but also enhances human dignity. In India, there are many legal provisions which seek to protect the environment from the human race. Along with the various Constitutional provisions, there are several legislative enactments passed by the parliament of India in order to achieve the constitutional objective of ensuring a wholesome environment to the citizens of India.

Protecting our environment is part of our cultural values and traditions. Constitution of India embodies the framework of protection and preservation of nature, without which we cannot enjoy life.


The Constitution of India is not an inert document, but a living document, which continues to grow and develop over time. The Indian Constitution is the first Constitution in the world which made provisions for the protection of environment. These specific provisions on environmental protection contained in the Constitution are one of the results of the changing nature and growth potential of the basic land law.

Originally the Indian Constitution contained no specific provisions for environmental protection, prevention, control of pollution as such. India post-independence in 1947, employed a range of regulatory instruments to preserve and protect its natural resources.  Eventually, certain specific provisions have been incorporated by the Constitution 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, and subsequent amendments.

The Constitution of India played a significant role in protecting and preserving our environment through various enactment of laws, including enforcement of any legal rights relating to environment and ultimately rescuing by providing compensation for damages caused to the environment and surroundings.


Article 51A(g)

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.

The 42nd Amendment of the Constitution added a new dimension to the Indian Constitution in the form of Article 51A which deals with the Fundamental Duties (Part IV-A). Currently, we have 11 fundamental duties in our Constitution under Article 51A, out of these, Article 51A(g) is one of the fundamental duties which exclusively emphasizes on environmental protection.

Landmark judgments for Article 51A(g)

MC Mehta vs. Union of India (1983)1 SCC 471

  • Supreme Court held that under Article 51A(g) of the Constitution, it is duty of the central government to introduce compulsory teaching of lessons on protection and improvement of the natural environment in all educational institutions of the nation.
  • It directed the central government to get textbooks written on the subject and to distribute the same free of cost to the educational institutions.
  • As there were many grave consequences of water and air pollution, also there was need to protect and improve the natural environment, so the Apex Court also held that it is moral obligation on the part of the government to ensure the protection of the environment.
  • Also, it is one of the fundamental duties given in our Constitution which makes a moral obligation on the part of the citizens as well as to ensure the protection of the environment.

Animal Welfare Board of India vs. A. Nagaraja & Ors. 2014

  • Supreme Court held that compassion for all living creatures includes concern for their suffering and well-being.
  • In the case, the SC regarded 51A(g) alongside the duty to develop scientific temperament under 51A(h) as the Magna Carta of animal rights jurisprudence in India.

Article 48A

Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife- the state shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.

The Constitution 42nd Amendment Act, added a new Directive Principle (Part IV) in the Article 48A dealing specifically with the protection and improvement of environment.

The Environment Protection Act, 1986 and various other laws providing for the protection of environment, forest and wildlife are among the steps taken under this article.

Landmark judgments for Article 48A

The language of Article 48A has been taken into consideration by courts in some cases related to the environment as follows-

Kinkri Devi vs. State of Himachal Pradesh &Ors. AIR 1988 HP 4

The High Court of Himachal Pradesh observed that in Article 48A and Article 51A(g), there is both a constitutional direction to the State and a constitutional duty on the citizen to not only protect and improve the environment, but also to safeguard the forests, the flora and fauna, the rivers and lakes and all other resources of the country.

Damodar Rao vs. The Special Officer, Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad AIR 1987 AP 171

The High Court of Andhra Pradesh went a step further and held that in views of Articles 48A and 51A(g), protection of the environment is not only the duty of every citizen, but also the obligation of the State and all other State organs, including the judiciary.

Article 21

Protection of life and personal liberty- no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Article 21 guarantees fundamental right (Part III) to life. Right to healthy environment (Right to Pollution free Environment), free of danger of disease and infection is inherent in it.

On the basis of the wider interpretation to the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, Supreme Court and High Courts have held in several cases that the right to pollution free environment is part of the right to life.

Landmark judgment for Article 21

Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra vs. State, AIR 1988 SC 2187

  • This case is also popularly known as Dehradun Quarrying Case.
  • The right to live in a healthy environment as a part of Article 21 of the Constitution was first recognized in this case.
  • The Supreme Court held that mining activities polluted the environment and thus, violated the right to life of the people living in that region.
  • So, SC directed to stop the excavation (illegal mining) under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India, AIR 1987 DC 1086

The Supreme Court treated the right to live in pollution free environment as a part of Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

Article 19(1)(g)

All citizens shall have the right to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

The objective of this provision is to avoid ecological imbalance and atmospheric degradation in the name of participation in trade or in any other occupation. Thus, safeguards for environment protection are inherent in this article.

Landmark judgment for Article 19(1)(g)

Cooverjee B. Bharucha vs. Excise Commissioner AIR 1954 SC 220

The Supreme Court observed that, if there is clash between environmental protection and right to freedom of trade and occupation, the courts have to balance environmental interests with fundamental rights to carry on any occupations.


PIL is a form of litigation aiming protection of the public interest. It is effort of providing legal representation and benefit to the victims devoid of necessary resources to initiate litigation.

PIL under Article 32 and 226 of the Constitution of India resulted in a wave of environmental litigation. PIL provides excessive relief and creates positive change in the governance and its policy making, making it an ideal tool for environmental remedial measures.

Landmark judgments allied PIL

Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum vs. Union of India AIR 1996 SCC 647

The court observed that ‘The Precautionary Principle’ and ‘The Polluter Pays Principle’ are essential features of Sustainable Development.

Indian Council for Enviro Legal Action vs. Union of India & Others 1996 SCC (3)212

  • The Supreme Court applied ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ and held that the manufactures of products discharging toxic effluents into environment without adequate treatment will be liable for payment of compensation.
  • Also, held that manufactures are bound to take all necessary measures to remove the sludge and other pollutants lying in the affected area and should defray the cost of the remedial measures required to be taken to restore the soil and the underground water sources.


Nowadays, it is necessary to understand the constitutional provisions related to the protection of environment to increase citizens participation towards environmental awareness, environmental education and protection of ecology and the environment.

It can also be inferred that the Supreme Court played an important role in establishing environmental jurisprudence. In addition, fundamental rights are indispensable and cannot be violated, only they can be resolved within reasonable limits.

The global concern for environment, natural resources and wildlife, caused the development of legal frame works both at national and international levels.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the nation. Therefore, inserting clauses specifically dealing with environmental issues will benefit the environment. But, by simply enacting laws, the environmental protection goals cannot be achieved. Implementing these laws and taking appropriate action is the supreme responsibility of the State by applying the policies correctly and efficiently.








Constitution of India by- V.N. Shukla


Gautam Buddha University- 4th year/ law student

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