Till around fifty years ago, the idea that every human should have a right to a healthy environment was considered to be a novel, even radical idea. But since then it has been recognized as a basic human right by the international community and measures have been taken to enforce this right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) or the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (1966) are all revolutionary human rights documents but none of them have mentioned the right to on environment. Society’s awareness of the impact, speed, and adverse results of environmental degradation was not sufficiently advanced nor researched upon during the era when these agreements were drafted.
The right to a healthy environment was first recognized by the Stockholm Declaration, which emerged from the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) that was held in 1972. In the four decades since the Stockholm Declaration, the acceptance of the right to a healthy environment rapidly spread around the globe. The Brundtland Report, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, which resulted in the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21, Convention on Biological Diversity, the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio in 2012 are all examples of international conferences and agreements that have taken place. As of 2012, 177 of the world’s 193 UN member nations, including India, have recognized the right to a healthy environment either through amending their constitution, or making and implementing environmental laws, court decisions, or by ratifying an international agreement.
Environmental Governance: Historical Background India
The Indian Constitution when it was first drafted did not make any direct or specific provisions for the environment. This did not mean that the Court did not take measures to protect the environment. The 42nd Amendment that was made in 1976 amended the Constitution to include environmental rights for the public and inserted Articles 48A and 51A(g) which imposed a duty on both the State and individuals to protect environment. In M.K. Janardhanam v. District Collector, Tiruvallur, the Madras High Court has observed that the phrase ‘protect and improve’, used in Articles 48A and 51A mean that the State and the citizens have a duty not only to preserve the environment in its current form but also to improve its quality so that people can live a healthy life.
India was one of the participants of the UNCHE and with a desire to protect and improve the environment several different legislations, regulations and rules were passed for fulfilling this objective. The Indian Government, through the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) enacted comprehensive laws to protect the nation’s environment. One of the major environmental enactments came just two years after the Stockholm Conference of 1972. That was the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. Several other environmental laws have been passed by the Indian Parliament and are in force today.
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