Constitutional provisions related to Environment and its Protection

Constitutional provisions related to Environment and its Protection

The protection and improvement of environment is a constitutional mandate. It is a commitment for a country wedded to the ideas of a welfare State. The Indian Constitution contains specific provisions for environment protection under the chapters of Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties. The absence of a specific provision in the Constitution recognizing the fundamental right to clean and wholesome environment has been set off by judicial activism in the recent times.

Articles 48-A and 51-A. Clause (g)

Initially, the Constitution of India had no direct provision for environmental protection. Global consciousness for the protection of environment in the seventies, Stockholm Conference and increasing awareness of the environmental crisis prompted the Indian Government to enact 42nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1976. The Constitution was amended to introduce direct provisions for protection of environment. This 42nd Amendment added Article 48-A to the Directive Principles of State Policy.


The Article states: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” The said amendment imposed a responsibility on every citizen in the form of Fundamental Duty.

Article 51-A, Clause (g)

Article 51-A (g) which deals with Fundamental Duties of the citizens states: “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.” Thus, protection and improvement of natural environment is the duty of the State (Article 48-A) and every citizen (Article 51- A (g)).

Article 253

Article 253 states that ‘Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the country for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country. In simple words this Article suggests that in the wake of Stockholm Conference of 1972, Parliament has the power to legislate on all matters linked to the preservation of natural environment. Parliament’s use of Article 253 to enact Air Act and Environment Act confirms this view. These Acts were enacted to implement the decisions reached at Stockholm Conference.

Article 19(1)(g) : Khoday Distilleries Ltd vs State of Karnataka on 19 October, 1994

Article 19(1)(g) read with Article 19(6) spells out a fundamental right of the citizens to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business so long as it is not prohibited or is within the framework of the regulation, if any, if such prohibition or regulation has been imposed by the State by enacting a law in the interests of the general public. It cannot be disputed that certain professions, occupations, trades or businesses which are not in the interests of the general public may be completely prohibited while others may be permitted with reasonable restrictions on them. For the same purpose, viz., to subserve the interests of general public, the reasonable restrictions on the carrying on of any profession, occupation, trade, etc., may provide that such trade, business etc., may be carried on exclusively by the State or by a Corporation owned or controlled by it. The right conferred upon the citizens under Article 19(1)(g) is thus subject to the complete or partial prohibition or to regulation, by the State. However, under the provisions of Article 19(6) the prohibition, partial or complete, or the regulation, has to be in the interests of the general public.

Apart from the restrictions placed on the right under Article 301, by the provisions of Articles 19(6), 47, 302 and 303, the provisions of Article 304 also place such restrictions on the said right. So do the provisions of Article 305, so far as they protect existing laws and laws creating State monopolies. The provisions of the aforesaid articles, so far as they are relevant for our purpose, read together, therefore, make the position clear that the right conferred by Article19(1)(g) is not absolute. It is subject to restrictions imposed by the other provisions of the Constitution. Those provisions are contained in Articles 19(6), 47, 302, 303, 304 and 305.


Article 21

Article 21 of the constitution of India provides for the right to life and personal liberty. It states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”In Rural Litigation and Entitlement.

Kendra v State of UP, also known as the Dehradun quarrying case, the Supreme Court of India has held that pollution caused by quarries adversely affects the health and safety of people and hence, the same should be stopped as being violative of Article 21.In this case, the Supreme Court for the first time held that the right to wholesome environment is a part of right to life and personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Further, in the case of Subhash Kumar v State of Bihar, again the apex court held that the right to get pollution free water and air is a fundamental right under Article 21. Following this decision, the right to pollution free environment was incorporated under the head of right to life and all the law courts within the Indian territory were bound to follow the same. This laid down the foundation of environmental litigation in India.

Similarly, public health and ecology were held to be the priorities under Article 21 and the constitution of a green bench was also ordered by the Supreme Court. In the case of Ratlam Muncipality v Vardicharan, where the problem of pollution was due to private polluters and haphazard town planning, it was held by the Supreme Court that pollution free environment is an integral part of right to life under Article 21.

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