Natural disasters caused by environmental degradation have become more common
in recent years, serving as a painful wake-up call for all of humanity. Millions
of fatalities and loss of land and property as a result of devastating floods,
landslides, and cyclones have forced us to open Pandora's box and realise that
we have butchered our environment to unthinkable proportions in our race for
progress and modernization. As a result, it is evident that these disasters are
entirely man-made rather than natural.
The struggle between development and environmental conservation stems from
nations' ambition to become industrialised and secure their place as
economically developed nations. It is evident that development and environmental
protection are inextricably linked, and that one is the natural polar opposite
of the other. It's because a country's development is dependent on utilising its
environment and resources, but environmental protection certainly slows down the
rate of development.
Environmental Degradation: The Consequence of Over-Exploitation
Climate change has emerged as one of the world's most pressing issues, raising
concerns about our responsibilities to the earth and future generations. For
many years, the devastation of natural resources such as lakes and rivers by
filling them with water for commercial and residential uses has been the
standard. They are used to build residences, skyscrapers, tourist resorts, and
Similarly, large-scale rock mining and quarrying continue unabated, producing
landslides and wreaking havoc on water supplies, agriculture, land, and
wildlife. Despite the fact that we have long acknowledged the need for
environmental protection and have regulations in place to safeguard the
environment, practical realities indicate that we have failed miserably to
appropriately protect our environment, with disastrous consequences.
While there are international institutions and national legislation in place to
ensure international collaboration in order to conserve the environment while
still achieving development, it is important to remember that the influence and
level of these environmental laws vary by country. If we look at the history of
global environmental pollution and degradation, we can plainly see those
industrialised countries such as the United States, Russia, and others were the
primary perpetrators of environmental damage and big polluters.
Concerns about environmental protection and the need to regulate development did
not gain traction until after they had solidified their place as industrialised
nations and world leaders. This imposed a significant cost on developing and
least developed countries, since they were forced to bear the brunt of
environmental plunder despite not being the primary perpetrators. As a result,
they were placed on an even more uneven footing with wealthy countries, ensuring
that their rate of development would always be slower.
However, countries like India have mercilessly over-exploited the environment in
their pursuit of economic progress, as evidenced by the devastating Kerala
floods of 2018 and 2019, which killed thousands of people. It was a
once-in-a-lifetime experience that compelled us to confront the serious
repercussions of our conduct.
The Right to Development in Relation to Environmental Rights
India is a perplexing example of poverty in the face of abundant natural riches.
On the one hand, there is a need for economic growth to promote social progress
and improve human living conditions; on the other hand, massive environmental
problems such as resource scarcity, species extinction, air pollution, soil
pollution, and water pollution caused by industrial production directly threaten
mankind's survival and long-term development.
In developing countries like India, the tension between the right to growth and
the right to the environment is particularly visible and conspicuous. Both the
right to development and the right to the environment are third-generation
rights that are intimately linked to human progress and international peace.
There is a de facto clash between the right to development and the right to the
environment in developing countries, which has major consequences.
In India, the court has played a critical role in the creation and evolution of
both the right to development and the right to the environment as both a human
and a basic right, in addition to other legislations. The Supreme Court of India
has demonstrated judicial inventiveness by establishing a new set of rights into
the Constitution's chapter on fundamental rights that can be enforced in a court
of law. The Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment is one of several rights
that have been elevated to the rank of fundamental rights as a result of
The judiciary has also constructed Right to Development as a basic right in its
creative role. The right to development places human beings at the centre of
development, with the state obligated to ensure that persons benefit from
development. The fact that both of these opposing rights, the right to the
environment and the right to development, have their origins in Article 21 of
the Constitution is fascinating. Such assertion of rights inevitably raises the
issue of governmental compliance. The courts have had to strike a balance
between societal and private interests while attempting to balance both of these
The Supreme Court ruled in Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar
 that the
Right to Environment, which is contained in Article 48A of the Constitution
under Article 21, is a human right. "The right to life established in Art. 21
encompasses the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air for the full
enjoyment of life," it was determined. An affected individual or a person
genuinely concerned in the protection of society would have recourse to Art. 32
if something endangers or damages the quality of life."
In Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh
, the Supreme Court held:
"The right to exist in any civilised society entails the right to food, water, a
good environment, education, medical treatment, and shelter." Any civilised
culture is aware of these basic human rights."
The entire body of environmental law jurisprudence in India has developed under
the auspices of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It's because the right to
life encompasses more than just animal survival, and every citizen has the right
to a particular standard of living, which is based on the right to the
The significance of the Supreme Court in upholding the right to development was
stressed in the case of T.N Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India
Natural resources, it was said, constitute the nation's most valuable asset. All
parties involved, including the federal government and state governments, have a
responsibility to conserve and not squander resources. Any threat to the
environment might result in a breach of the right to a healthy existence, which
is guaranteed under Article 21 and must be preserved. The Supreme Court is
obligated by the Constitution to protect the environment.
The Right to Develop
On the other hand, the judiciary has interpreted the Right to Development as a
part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The human right to development is
founded on both fundamental rights and State Policy Directive Principles.
Fundamental Rights and Directives are the two wheels of the development chariot.
"The right to development cannot be viewed as a mere right to economic
betterment or as a misnomer to basic building operations," the Supreme Court
held in N.D. Jayal and Anr. v. Union of India
, the second Tehri Dam
The guarantee of fundamental human rights is included in the notion of the right
to development, which incorporates much more than economic well-being. The right
to development encompasses the complete range of civic, cultural, economic,
political, and social processes aimed at enhancing people's well-being and
realising their full potential. It is an essential component of human rights. Of
course, building a dam or a large-scale project is an attempt to accomplish the
goal of sustainable development. Such efforts could very well be considered a
necessary part of the development process.
A review of the law on instances involving the right to the environment and the
right to development demonstrates that the courts have attempted to make
judgements that are pro-environmental while also promoting sustainable
The case of Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra v. Union of India
in which the court ordered the closure of limestone quarries despite the money
and time involved, was one of the first cases in which the SC gave primacy to
the right to environment over the right to development.
The court determined that the same was required to protect and safeguard
people's right to live in a healthy environment with minimal disruption of
ecological balance and without unnecessary risk to themselves, their cattle,
homes, and agricultural land, as well as undue contamination of air, water, and
In a case known as the Kanpur tanneries case, M.C. Mehta v. Union of India
, the Supreme Court struck a balance between the right to development and the
right to the environment, saying: "In cases of this nature, this court may issue
appropriate directions if it finds that the public nuisance or other wrongful
act affecting or likely to affect the public is being committed and the
statutory authorities charged with the duty to prevent it are not taking
action." There should be a remedy for every violation of a right."
While the apex court in the above-mentioned decisions appears to prioritise the
right to progress, this has been a constant approach. The Supreme Court, in the
case of Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India , where the dispute was
about the Sardar Sarovar Dam, said that "while protecting the rights of the
people from being violated in any manner, the utmost care must be taken that the
court does not transgress its jurisdiction," while rejecting the Petitioners'
plea. The powers of the government's institutions are quite well delineated in
our constitutional framework, and the court has declined to meddle with the
government's development policies.
The court in Banwasi Sewa Ashram v. State of Uttar Pradesh
 took a
similar approach, noting that woods were valuable national assets while still
acknowledging that industrial development was important. "There is a significant
demand for electric energy in this country for industrial growth and providing
greater living conditions," it was noted. Indeed, the country as a whole, and
specific regions of it in particular, have suffered a significant setback in
industrial activity due to a lack of energy for quite some time. As a result, a
plan to create electricity is equally important to the country and cannot be
It is evident from the preceding rulings that both of these rights are extremely
important, and that a constant schism between them is neither advisable nor
desirable. The notion of sustainable development, which aims to achieve a
delicate balance between development and environmental protection, gained
traction during this time. The notion of sustainable development was recognised
by the court in the case of Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum v. Union of India
The old notion that development and ecological are mutually exclusive is no
longer valid. Sustainable development is now widely recognised as a feasible
strategy for eradicating poverty and improving human well-being while remaining
within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.
The sort or extent of development that may take place and be sustained by
nature/ecology with or without mitigation is referred to as sustainable
development. The new requirement is that the risk of harm to the environment or
human health must be determined in the public interest using the reasonable
- A.I.R. 1991 S.C. 420
- (1996) 2 S.C.C. 549.
- (2006) 1 SCC 1
- (2004) 9 S.C.C. 362
- 1989 S.C.C. Supp. (1) 537.
-  4 S.C.C. 463.
- A.I.R. 2000 S.C. 3751
- A.I.R. 1987 S.C. 374
- (1996) 5 S.C.C. 647