Constitutional duty to protect Environment

The Constitution of India , as it stood originally, did not contain any provisions specifying fundamental duties of citizens. It is by way of Art.51A (g) the duty is cast on 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 same amendment also imposed a duty on the State to endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. These provisions were inserted under the heading ‘Directive Principles of State Policy’ and ‘Fundamental Duties. There is no fundamental right under the Constitution for the people to clean and unpolluted environment under the Indian Constitution.

Directive Principles are not enforceable by High Courts and Supreme Court by issuing a writs to enforce it. In case of a conflict between Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles, the former always prevail. In short, Directive Principles were always subservient to Fundamental Rights. The said Courts cannot issue writ directions for the enforcement of fundamental duties. They can be used for interpreting ambiguous statutes. It is because of the said limitations that courts were issuing directions to protect the environment by invoking the power conferred on them for the enforcement of the right to life conferred under Article 21 of the Constitution , which is a fundamental right.

Whenever a problem of ecology is brought before a court, the court is bound to bear in mind Article 48A and Article 51A (g) of the Constitution. When the court is called upon to give effect to the Directive Principles and Fundamental Duties it cannot shrug its shoulders and say that priority is a matter of policy, and so it is a matter for the policy making authority to comment on. The least the court should do is to examine whether appropriate considerations are borne in mind and irrelevancies excluded in such matters

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© 2013 Environmental Law Research and Guidance Foundation India (ELaw India)
Last Update : 5 May 2013
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