Historic verdict: Right to defense against climate change enshrined in Indian Constitution

This ruling signifies a pivotal advancement in India's climate change jurisprudence, intertwining the essence of environmental sustainability with fundamental human rights.

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The Supreme Court of India, in a landmark ruling, has expanded the protective scope of the Constitution, embedding the right against the adverse effects of climate change within the purview of fundamental human rights. This decision, articulated by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, redefines Articles 14 and 21 to advocate for environmental protection as an inherent component of the right to life and equality.

“The Constitution, though not enforceable in this context, inherently recognizes the natural world’s importance through Articles such as 48A and 51A(g),” stated Chief Justice Chandrachud. The ruling, while rooted in the plea for the conservation of the Great Indian Bustard, extends its implications far beyond, addressing the broader spectrum of climate change challenges faced by the nation.

The detailed order, released subsequent to the March 21 verdict, elucidates the judiciary’s interpretation of environmental protection as a fundamental right. “Despite the lack of a singular climate change legislation, the citizens’ right against its adverse effects remains intact,” the bench asserted, emphasizing the state’s obligation to safeguard the environment.

Highlighting the existing policies on climate change, Justice Pardiwala noted, “The absence of an umbrella legislation does not diminish the constitutional rights to a clean environment.” The decision critically addresses the technical and economic viabilities of transitioning power lines underground, a key concern for the protection of the Great Indian Bustard’s habitat.

India’s ambitious renewable energy targets, aiming for 175 GW by 2022 and extending to 450 GW by 2030, underscore the nation’s commitment to sustainable growth and environmental preservation. “These targets reflect our strategic shift towards non-fossil fuels, aligning with our international commitments,” Justice Misra commented, highlighting the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy adoption.

This ruling signifies a pivotal advancement in India’s climate change jurisprudence, intertwining the essence of environmental sustainability with fundamental human rights. “The right to a clean and healthy environment, integral to the right to life, mandates the state to ensure adaptability and mitigation against climate adversities,” the bench collectively remarked, reinforcing the constitutional duty of care towards citizens.

“The intersection of climate change and human rights has never been more pronounced, demanding effective state measures to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis,” Chief Justice Chandrachud concluded.

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