2022 GS2 Answer

Q. “The most significant achievement of modern law in India is the constitutionalization of environmental problems by the Supreme Court.” Discuss this statement with the help of relevant case laws.

Question from UPSC Mains 2022 GS2 Paper

Model Answer: 

Role of the Indian Supreme Court in Addressing Environmental Issues

The statement highlights the importance of the role played by the Indian Supreme Court in addressing environmental issues and the evolution of environmental jurisprudence through the constitutionalization of environmental problems. The Supreme Court has played an instrumental role in interpreting the Constitution of India to incorporate environmental concerns within its ambit, thereby providing a strong legal framework for environmental protection.

Significant Case Laws Demonstrating Constitutionalization of Environmental Problems in India

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1986): Also known as the Oleum Gas Leak case, this was one of the early instances where the Supreme Court laid down the principle of “Absolute Liability” for hazardous industries. The court held that any industry engaged in hazardous activities owes an “absolute and non-delegable duty” to the community to ensure that no harm results from its activities.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1987): In the Ganga Pollution case, the Supreme Court ordered the closure of certain tanneries that were polluting the river Ganga. The court held that the right to a pollution-free environment is part of the fundamental right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (1997): The Taj Mahal case, also known as the Taj Trapezium case, saw the Supreme Court ordering the closure of industries around the Taj Mahal to protect it from environmental degradation. The court emphasized the importance of sustainable development and the need to balance economic development with environmental protection.

Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996): In this case, the Supreme Court recognized the “Precautionary Principle” and the “Polluter Pays Principle” as part of the Indian environmental law. The court stated that the precautionary principle should be applied in cases where there is a threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage, and the polluter should bear the cost of pollution control measures.

Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India (1996): The Bichhri case saw the Supreme Court applying the “Polluter Pays Principle” and ordering the polluting industries to pay for the remediation of the environment they had contaminated. The court also held that environmental protection is a constitutional duty of both the state and the citizens under Articles 48A and 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution.

In conclusion, the Indian Supreme Court has played a pivotal role in the constitutionalization of environmental problems by interpreting various provisions of the Constitution to include environmental concerns. The court has not only incorporated international principles like the Precautionary Principle and the Polluter Pays Principle into Indian law but has also expanded the scope of fundamental rights to include the right to a healthy environment. These judgments have set important legal precedents and have shaped the course of environmental jurisprudence in India.

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