Role of the Judiciary in the Growth and Development of Environmental Jurisprudence of India

Dr. Matiur Rahman
Assistant Professor of Law, University Law College, Gauhati University, India.

Volume III, Issue V, 2020

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 1972 was the starting point for India’s legislations for ecology, environment and biodiversity. Following this Conference, the Parliament of India enacted a number of comprehensive legislations relating to water, air and forests and wildlife and, thereby, initiating appropriate steps, in this regard, to implement the decisions taken by the Government of India in the said Conference. The role of the judiciary was very crucial in this phase. Because the judicial interpretation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, in its historic judgement delivered by the Apex Court in the famous Maneka Gandhi’s case, was the epicenter of evergrowing environmental jurisprudence of India. Facts remain that the pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the “right to live” which accorded a new dimension, to the “right to life” became a judicial breakthrough in the area of environmental protection in the post Maneka Gandhi cases involving issues of forests, wildlife and biodiversity. On the foundation of the “affirmative duty doctrine” enunciated in the Maneka Gandhi’s case, the Supreme Court enunciated the theory that it is open to the Court to enforce the duty implied by Article 48-A through the device of issuing directions under Article 48-A through the device of issuing directions under Article 32(2) of the Constitution. The pronouncement of the Supreme Court of India made the Directive Principle of State Policy contained in Article 48-A judicially enforceable. In the famous Oleum Gas Leak Case, the Apex Court while rejecting the “rule of strict liability” introduced a new rule called the “rule of absolute liability” for the industries engaged with hazardous activities. The Supreme Court, while taking recourses to an ecocentric approach to environment, started passing directions for the protection and preservation of fragile ecosystems including forests, wildlife, wetlands, mountains, rivers, hillocks etc. The Apex Court also declared the “public trust doctrine” as an integral part of environmental jurisprudence of India in a number of public interest litigations involving issues of ecology and environment. The Court recognized the citizen’s “right to live in a healthy environment” as a solidarity right emerating from Article 21 of the Constitution. Apart from that, the “right to information concerning the environment” was also recognized as a basic procedural human right. According to the Court, this right promises environmental protection essentially by way of democracy and informed debate. A strong argument, in this regard, is that the democratic decision making always lead to environmentally friendly policies.

Keywords: Environmental Jurisprudence, Stockholm Conference, The Supreme Court, Rule of Absolute Liability, Public Trust Doctrine, the Right to A Healthy Environment and Maneka Gandhi’s case.