Environmental Law: Human Rights Perspective
Authored by Ekta Sehra
Environment, Sustainable development, Right to Life.
The environment has grabbed attention worldwide with time. Humans on the path of their so-called development have degraded their surroundings and exploited the environment for their greed and need. With time, people have realized the significance of the environment, and new laws have been framed with the object of its conservation. Even, human rights are interconnected with these laws.
The Environment provides the surrounding essential to the existence of humans and their survival. The Environment is a broad term including soil, climate, natural resources, living beings, water, etc.
The following are some definitions of the Environment.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Environment as the complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors (such as climate, soil, and living things) that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival.
According to section 2(a) The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the "Environment" includes water, air, and land and the inter-relationship which exists among and between water, air and land, and human beings, other living creatures, plants, microorganism, and property.
Undoubtedly, the Environment is crucial to the existence and survival of humans. But with the race of time, humans started to exploit the Environment for their own benefits, selfishness, and greed. Deforestation, dumping waste into rivers or lakes, garbage on land, increasing pollution, exploitation of natural resources are some instances showing the cruelty to the Environment by humans. However, humans have understood its significance with the harsh consequences of the degradation of the Environment and with time. And therefore, the UN took its very first official step in the year 1972, where it organized a conference in Stockholm (Sweden) from 5 June to 16 June. It was an extraordinary and memorial step towards the Environment, and even now, the world celebrates 5 June as World Environment Day.
Focusing on Human rights, these are those basic rights of an individual that he inherits from his birth till the end of his life. These are essential and fundamental rights of a person, not granted by any state but recognized at the international level as mandatory rights. Some of the prominent human rights are the right to life, right to work, right to education, and freedom of speech and expression, etc. Notably, Human rights recognize the right to life as a significant fundamental right.
Environmental law as a human right:
The state has to protect and promote human rights in that state. The legislator makes new legislation based on the needs of the people of the nation and their welfare. Environmental laws are those laws that establish a standard of how humans should interact with the environment so as to minimize their exploitation. The primary aim of these laws is to protect the environment and aware of the masses.
Significantly, the right to life is a prominent human right. The right to life has also evolved with time. Nowadays, the right to life does not merely mean the existence of life, but it includes living a life with full dignity and well-being, a healthy and decent environment also. Even Environmental rights are known as third-generation rights.
There have been numerous national and international laws as environmental protection laws, such as , The Nuclear Weapons Test Ban Treaty of 1963, Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 1968, The African Convention on the Conservation of Natural Resources, 1968, Treaty on Oil Pollution in Seas, 1969, The Convention of Wetlands of International Importance, 1971, The Convention of the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, 1972 and others.
These are some prominent laws for the Environment. The world has witnessed several conferences and meetings at the international level concerning and giving priorities to the Environment. Some of the leading meetings are;
Stockholm Conference, 1972
Rio Earth Summit (Agenda 21), 1992.
Johannesburg Summit 2002.
The primary aim of these was sustainable development. Even, the Rio+ 20(2012) provided the three pillars of sustainable development. These were;
India's stand on Environmental Laws:
Understanding the significance of the Human-Environment relationship, every country has some national laws for the well-being of its citizens and their Environment. Even India has several laws for the protection and promotion of the Environment, such as; The Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Atomic Energy Act, Environmental Conservation Act, National Environmental Management Act, etc.
Indian Constitution's stand on the topic:
The Constitution of India also provides certain fundamental rights and duties to its citizens. Part III of the Constitution enshrines fundamental rights in it, while Part IV provides fundamental duties under article 51A.
One of the fundamental rights is the Right to Life and personal liberty under article 21, which has been interpreted several times with time through the Supreme court judgments.
Article 51A (g) of the Indian Constitution provides to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures, as a fundamental duty of the citizens.
Supreme Court Judgments on Right to Life
These are a few landmark judgments on the topic.
Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India: The Supreme Court widened the interpretation of the right to life. It recognized that it does not mean merely animal existence, but it is living it to the fullest and right to life means living in a healthy and wholesome environment.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India or Oleum Gas leak case: The Supreme Court decided the case on the concept of absolute liability when industries are engaged in the work of extremely hazardous nature and polluter; the said principle would be applicable even to the private factory.
Another some landmark judgments were given in the cases, like
The Ganga River case
Taj Trapezium case
Delhi CNG Vehicle case.
Vellore citizens welfare forum vs. Union of India.
The Environment is the need for humans, and they should keep this in mind while moving on their path of so-called development. Development does not mean destruction or compromise with the Environment. People should realize their responsibilities towards the Environment, its significance for their survival, and therefore, work on sustainable development without much exploitation of their surroundings. It is also the duty of the state to implement the national and international laws to the ground level in their territories. The government should keep a check on their policies from time to time and record its effect on society and the environment. They should bring new schemes, policies, and rules into their states to improve the situation and must focus on awareness.
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