Framers of our Constitution had realized a developing India, as the time moves on, will present before its citizens many issues that were immaterial or unheard of in those days. And that is why they gave us a comprehensive document that touches every part of our society, the individual, the community, the administration and the government. What is remarkable is the fact that every new challenge, every new issue can be interpreted in terms of the guidelines mentioned in the Constitution as mentioned in its preface, “Constitution is a living document, an instrument which makes the government system work.”
One such issue is environment. Pollution has reached to threatening levels in our country with 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities being Indian. Pollution is not something that has come into public psyche just now. It has had history of its own, especially in the aftermath of the industrial revolution in Europe in 18-19th Century coupled with the advent of fossil fuels. The world can never forget the Great Smog of London in 1952 that killed over 4000.
The framers of our Constitution deliberated on these issues and gave us safeguards that would continue to defence us, through the custodians of the Constitution, the Judiciary, even if the governments continue to fail us on environment and pollution. What can be a more apt testimony to this ‘Constitution is a living document’ spirit than the fact that our courts, including the Supreme Court, have, from time to time, have reminded the government and the industry that, though not directly mentioned, ‘Right to Environment’ is a Fundamental Right under Article 14, 19 and 21.
The Constitution empowers the citizens and the courts by ensuring ‘remedies for enforcement of rights it confers’ as defined by the Article 32 – “The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part (Fundamental Rights) is guaranteed” – or by the Article 226 in case of the High Courts.
Apart from the Fundamental Rights, our Constitution also comprehensive lays down guidelines to protect the environment at each level – be it an individual or society (Fundamental Duties) or the administration and government level (Directive Principals of State Policy).
INDIVIDUAL/SOCIETY -PART IVA OF THE CONSTITUTION – THE FUNDAMENTAL DUTIES
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 wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures;
THE STATE – PART IV – DIRECTIVE PRINCIPALS OF STATE POLICY
Article 43: The State shall endeavour to secure, by suitable legislation or economic organisation or in any other way, to all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to promote cottage industries on an individual or co-operative basis in rural areas.
Article 47: The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.
Article 48A: The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.
THE ADMINISTRATION – PART IXA OF THE CONSTITUTION – THE MUNICIPALITIES
District Planning Committee
Article 243ZD (3A): Every District Planning Committee shall, in preparing the draft development plan — have regard to —
(i) matters of common interest between the Panchayats and the Municipalities including spatial planning, sharing of water and other physical and natural resources, the integrated development of infrastructure and environmental conservation.
Metropolitan Planning Committee
Article 243ZE (3): Every Metropolitan Planning Committee shall, in preparing the draft development plan — have regard to—
(ii) matters of common interest between the Municipalities and the Panchayats, including co-ordinated spatial planning of the area, sharing of water and other physical and natural resources, the integrated development of infrastructure and environmental conservation.