Environment is the most discussed topic in the world nowadays. People are paying more attention to it since pollution and global warming has been increasing rampantly. The environment is a significant part of our lives, and we are directly connected to it in every way we see around us. When our lives depend on the environment, we can easily say that our rights can only be fully exercised when we are in a safe and sound environment. It means that human rights are associated with our Right to Pollution Free Environment. As the deterioration will directly impact a human being's lives economically, socially, and in every way possible.


We see the first mention of the relationship between Environment and Human rights from the first international conference on the human environment, held in the Stockholm Declaration, 1972. It was stated in Principle 1 of the Stockholm Declaration that "Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being." This statement shows the link between Environment and Human beings and that they are completely dependent on each other.

Later on, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro focused on the sustainable development of the environment with human beings. The three principles of the Rio de Janeiro Declaration, 1992 states -

Principle 1 - 'Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature'.

Principle 4 says, 'To achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.'

Principle 10 deals with public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.

Likewise, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, in the 57th Session of the Commission on Human Rights, 2001 stated that - "Human rights cannot be secured in a degraded or polluted environment. The fundamental right to life is threatened by soil degradation, deforestation, exposure to toxic chemicals, hazardous waste, and contaminated drinking water. Environmental conditions help to determine the extent to which people enjoy their basic rights to life, health, adequate food and housing, and traditional livelihood and culture. It is time to recognize that those who pollute or destroy the natural environment are not just committing a crime against nature, but are violating human rights as well." [2]

Keeping this in mind, there are many international summits held for the sole purpose of establishing a balance between the environment and humans. One such summit was the World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002, held in Johannesburg. Its main goal was "to improve the level of nutrition and sustainable development for the quality life of human beings." As for the relation between environment and Human Rights, the United Nations General Assembly Summit, 2010 has taken a step and declared that "the Right to Safe and Clean Drinking Water and Sanitation is one of the most important Human Rights."


The Constitution of India constitutes various provisions and laws to protect both the environment and human rights.

Human Rights

Part III of the Indian Constitution provides for the six fundamental Human Rights from Article 14 to Article 35. [3]

Right to Equality (Articles 14-18): This Right provides equal treatment and equal employment opportunities to everyone without discrimination by state based on religion, gender, caste, race, or place of birth. It also includes the abolition of titles and untouchability.

Right to Freedom (Articles 19-22): This Right guarantees six different types of freedoms to the citizens of India like Freedom of Speech and Expression, Freedom of assembly without arms, Freedom of association, freedom to practice any profession, and Freedom to reside in any part of the country. These freedoms are subjected to some restrictions which can be imposed by the state. Those conditions are state security, public morality and decency, and friendly relations with foreign countries.

Right Against Exploitation(Articles 23-24): This right provides for the prohibition of human trafficking, begar, and any other form of forced labor. Furthermore, it prohibits the employment of children under 14 years in hazardous conditions.

Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25-28): This article states that Indian does not support any specific religion but respect all religions. It shows the secular nature of India. Under the Right to Freedom of Religion, there is freedom of conscience, profession, practice, and religion propagation. In India, every person has the right to freely practice his or her belief, establish and maintain sacred and charitable organizations.

Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29 & 30): Cultural Rights ensure that no minority groups are discriminated against on any basis and so that their respective cultures, languages, and religions can be protected.Education Rights guarantee education for everyone without any discrimination.

Right to Constitutional Remedies (32-35): Upon the infringement and violation of the above-stated rights, the aggrieved, under this right, may approach the court. The citizens can even go to the Supreme Court, which can issue the writs to enforce these rights. This is the most important right provided by the Constitution.

These fundamental rights are to ensure the safety and protection of all the citizens of India. There can not be any discrimination or partially with any citizen on any ground. It means that everyone is entitled to be treated equally.

Environmental Laws

Directive Principles of State Policy :

Directive Principles of State Policy provides some provisions for the protection of Environment by State:

Article 47 - This article of Directive Principles of State Policy states that it is the State's primary duty to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living for improving public health. The State can also prohibit the consumption of intoxicating drugs and drinks that may be hazardous for its citizens' health. [4]

Article 48A - The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and safeguard the country's forests and wildlife. [5]

Fundamental Duties

According to Part IV-A of India's Constitution, the protection of the environment is also a Fundamental Duty of the Indian citizens.

Article 51A - It shall be the duty of every citizen of India –

(g) to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and compassion for living creatures. [6]

Being the most important element of the state, citizens are themselves responsible for a neat and clean environment. As our means of livelihood depend upon the environment, we need to keep the surroundings healthy and decent to live a peaceful life.

Seventh Schedule (Article 246)

The concurrent list in the Seventh Schedule also provides some Items for the environment's safety and security. This list is to be followed by both Centre and State.

List III – Concurrent List

  • Item no. 17 Prevention of cruelty to animals

  • Item no. 17A Forests.

  • Item no. 17B Protection of wild animals and birds.


Some of the significant statutes for environmental protection are:

The National Green Tribunal Act, 2010

This legislation is for establishing a National Green Tribunal for convenient disposal of cases related to the environment.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

This act establishes various local, state, and national statutory authorities working to curb, control, and decrease pollution.

The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

This act has been provided for the prevention and control of water pollution. It enacts the establishment of organizations working with the purpose of water conservation and preservation.

The Environment Protection Act, 1986

The Environment Protection Act provides a framework for researching, surveying, strategizing, and executing various counter-measure plans for environmental protection and security.

The Hazardous Waste Management Regulations, 2016

Hazardous waste can be dangerous for the environment due to its volatile, reactive, fatal, and flammable properties. The Hazardous Waste Management Regulations, 2016 lays down the process for the disposal of such waste substances without harming the environment and provides for establishing different statutory bodies working for the same purpose.

Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972

This act has been enacted to prevent the illegal acts of poaching, smuggling, and trading wildlife species. It is to protect and secure such wildlife species from these illicit acts and criminalize them.

Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

This act was introduced with the objective of conservation and protection of forest land of our country.

These laws and legislations in India ensure the safety and security of humans and the environment. Such rules and regulations favor human development without exhausting and exploiting nature.


M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath and Others [8]

In this case, the Supreme Court applied the doctrine of Public Trust. The doctrine of Public Trust means that specific resources like air, water, sea, forest etc do not have any single private individual's ownership. They are accessible to everyone without any discrimination and are under the trusteeship of the government.

Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of UP [9]

For the first time, the Supreme Court, in this case, focused on the sustainable development of the environment by stating that the natural resources are the crucial assets of human beings and they must not be depleted carelessly.

Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame [10]

In this case, the Supreme Court stated that "basic needs of man have traditionally been accepted to three - food, clothing, and shelter. The right to life is guaranteed in any civilized society. That would take within its sweep the right to food, the right to clothing, the right to decent environment, and reasonable accommodation to live in."

Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India [11]

In this case, the Supreme Court defined two principles to be applied in dealing with the environment. The first principle is the Polluter Pays Principle. It simply means that "the one who reaps will sow the crop" or "the one who is at fault will be guilty and get punishment." Here this principle means that the one who is polluting the environment will not only pay the damages but also take the responsibility of restoring the polluted environment.

The second principle is the Precautionary Principle, which is divided into three different concepts:-

  1. The State and other statutory authorities are required to take appropriate steps to predict, prevent, and address the reasons for environmental deterioration.

  2. Lack of scientific validity should not be an excuse for delaying such counter-measures in the places where the environment is actually in danger of being degraded.

  3. The industry is required to prove that its actions are good for the environment. The "onus of proof" is on the industry.


We humans enjoy our rights and freedoms only when we are living in a safe and sound environment. Our occupations, jobs, household activities, means of livelihood, and habitation depend upon the environment we live in. Because of rapid development in science and technology, we have altered nature in the way we wanted without thinking about its repercussions or consequences.

Many times we have tried to transform nature in no favor of the environment. As a result, we can see that pollution and climate change are among the biggest challenges in front of humanity. It is changing the whole ecological system, placing the lives of all living species in danger. The worse the environment becomes, the worse is its impact on human life and rights.

In this critical circumstance, sustainable development is the only solution for keeping a balance between the environment and humans. We need to upgrade our lives while not harming the environment. With the statute, precedent, reason, and provided solution, it could be easily deciphered that Right to Pollution Free Environmental and Human Rights are not contradictory but complementary to each other.


1. Bhumitra Dubey, "Human Right and Environment", Law Times Journal, (October 1, 2020)

2. Diganth Raj Sehgal, "Relation between the right to pollution-free environment & human rights", IPLEADERS, accessed on 20 December, 2020

3. "Fundamental Rights - Articles 12-35 (Part III of Indian Constitution)", Byju's learning app, accessed on 25 December, 2020

4.Directive Principles of State Policy, Central Government Act, Article 47 in The Constitution Of India 1949, accessed on 24 December, 2020,

5.Directive Principles of State Policy, Central Government Act, Article 48A in The Constitution Of India 1949, accessed on 24 December, 2020,

6. Central Government Act Article 51A(g) in The Constitution Of India 1949, accessed on 24 December, 2020

7.Vinay Vaish and Hitender Mehta, "India: Environment Laws in India", MONDAQ - connecting knowledge and people, (31 August 2017)

8.M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath and Others, (1997)1 SCC 388

9.Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra v. State of UP, 1985 AIR 652

10.Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Totame, AIR 1990 SC 630

11.Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715

*The Author is a 2nd year B.A.LLB (Hons) student at Jiwaji University Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh

Disclaimer: The opinions and views in this article are personal and independent opinions of the author. VAIDHA doesn't hold any liability arising out of this article.

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