The Intersection of Human Rights and Environmental Law
The article ‘The Intersection of Human Rights and Environmental Law’ explores the complex interplay between human rights and environmental law, shedding light on the growing recognition of the mutually reinforcing nature of these two legal domains. It highlights the fundamental importance of incorporating human rights principles into environmental decision-making processes and the role of environmental law in safeguarding human rights.
Human rights and Environmental Law are closely related and complementary, with the same objective of recognising human rights and promoting human welfare. Both of them are interested in the advancement and improvement of human well-being. Various international and national groups, as well as governments, have acknowledged the relationship between environmental legislation and human rights. Because both are necessary for a higher standard of living, human rights and environmental conservation are intertwined. The connection between environmental law and human rights can be seen in the fact that while the right to life is acknowledged as a fundamental right, it has been expanded by courts to encompass the right to a healthy environment.
Overview of Human Rights
Every person has a right to the preservation and respect of their basic liberties and rights. Human rights are the freedoms, rights, and privileges that every person is entitled to simply by being human. Civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights are among them. Human rights are inalienable, indivisible, inherent, and dependent on one another. This means that we are always entitled to these rights, that exercising one right has an impact on exercising others, and that every human right must be protected.
Governments are expected to implement the laws and policies essential for the preservation of human rights as well as to control the private and public behaviours that have an impact on people’s ability to exercise such rights by their international obligations.
People are shielded by human rights agreements against governmental interference with or violations of their fundamental rights. World human rights treaties are indeed agreements between states, which are members of the international community, to uphold and protect certain rights for individuals within their territories or under their jurisdiction. These treaties serve as international legal instruments that establish standards and obligations for states to ensure the promotion, protection, and respect of human rights. States sign human rights treaties to guarantee that people and groups living under their jurisdiction can exercise certain rights while also agreeing not to violate such rights.
A) Definition and Principles of Human Rights
The phrase “human rights” indeed refers to a set of fundamental rights that are inherent to all individuals, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, gender, or any other characteristic. The advancement of a person’s personality, human traits, intelligence, and conscience, as well as the fulfilment of their spiritual and other higher requirements, depends on their understanding of human rights, which are an imperishable aspect of human nature. These rights are based on the principles of equality, justice, and respect for the inherent worth and value of every human being. Man has certain rights as a member of the community to live, be sustained, and grow in his potential.
B) International Human Rights Instruments
A Respected and fulfilling human life is made up of several fundamental components, which together make up human rights. It establishes guidelines for how people should be treated, and the upholding of these rights guarantees that each nation’s citizens are free to live their lives without suffering heinous injustices. Although the idea of human rights is quite broad, according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the United Nations, it may generally be divided into 9 core rights. The international treaties that serve as a mechanism for the laws’ substantive provisions each reflect one of these nine rights.
C) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
On December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) consists of 30 articles that outline the basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all individuals are entitled. All people, regardless of their colour, religion, or nationality, can use it. It served as a major catalyst for the creation of international human rights law and the foundation for the 1966-completed and 1976-enacted International Bill of Human Rights.
The Universal Human Rights Declaration does not have legal force, but its principles have been developed and integrated into subsequent international agreements, regional human rights instruments, and state legal frameworks.
Overview of Environmental Law
Any laws that are enforced by local, state, federal, or international organizations and have an impact on how people interact with their environment are referred to as environmental laws. This wide definition covers all areas of the law that safeguard the environment. Any regulations that protect the security of natural resources like land, water, minerals, forests, and air are included in environmental law.
Any governing body must include environmental legislation as a crucial component. It consists of a set of rules and legislation about environmental factors including water quality, air quality, and others.
A) Definition and Scope of Environmental Law
Environmental law is made up of a wide range of statutes, laws, and other rules that are primarily concerned with controlling how humans interact with the natural world and its many interconnected ecosystems. While many aspects of environmental law may not immediately relate to one another, they all serve as safeguards against environmental harm and as a means of guaranteeing the effective administration of the environment and its various ecosystems.
Environmental law and laws are essential for safeguarding not only the various plants and animals in the larger ecosystem that we live in, but also ourselves as individuals. To prevent violations that constitute a threat to the environment and, by extension, the human species as a whole, it is crucial to establish, govern, and interpret the numerous conventions and laws that have been launched by various nations and international bodies worldwide.
B) International Environmental Conventions and Treaties
1. Global climate change is covered by the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). The general aim of the UNFCCC, as outlined in Article 2, is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. The criteria for establishing the time frame to achieve this aim include scientific, technical, and socio-economic factors. Article 3 of the UNFCCC provides guidelines for the implementation of the convention. It emphasizes the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities among countries. Article 4 of the UNFCCC outlines the commitments of developed country parties. These commitments include mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, providing financial resources to support developing countries actions, transferring environmentally sound technologies, and enhancing capacity-building efforts.
2. The Kyoto Protocol was indeed adopted in 1997 as an international agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). However, the specific emission reduction goals were not set for all developed countries uniformly. Instead, the protocol established binding emissions reduction targets for a group of developed countries known as Annex I Parties, which included countries from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and countries with economies in transition.
3. The 2015 Paris Agreement sets forth detailed required and voluntary commitments for greenhouse gas abatement, adaptation to the negative effects of climate change, and reporting on the execution of various actions. It also provides funding for developing nations from developed ones. It is based on donations made voluntarily to reduce emissions, particularly to address adaptation to climate change and strengthen reporting requirements. The Paris Agreement operates on a five-year cycle that the nations carry out. They want to achieve a global peak in greenhouse gas emissions as soon as they can so that by the middle of the century, the globe will be climate neutral.
C) National and Regional Environmental Laws
By putting amendments to the Indian Constitution, impressive national efforts have been made to protect and enhance the environment. While the original Constitution of India did not explicitly address environmental preservation, significant changes have been made to incorporate environmental concerns and make them constitutional requirements.
The 42nd Amendment Act of 1976 played a crucial role in incorporating environmental protection into the Indian Constitution. This amendment added a new Directive Principle of State Policy (Article 48A) that states,
“The State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
This amendment reflected India’s commitment to environmental preservation following the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972.
The protection and improvement of the environment are indeed important objectives in India. These objectives are enshrined in the Constitution of India under different provisions. The primary provision is Article 48A of the Indian Constitution. Additionally, other relevant provisions in the Constitution indirectly address environmental concerns. These include:
Article 21: This article guarantees the fundamental right to life, which has been interpreted by the courts to include the right to a healthy environment.
Article 47: This article mandates that the State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people as among its primary duties. It also directs the State to improve public health.
To maintain a healthy environment throughout the nation, India formed the Ministry of Environment in 1980. In 1985, this changed into the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The Ministry is in charge of managing and enforcing environmental laws and regulations overall. Constitutional clauses are supported by several Acts and Rules. The majority of our environmental legislation was passed by state or federal legislatures. Generally speaking, these Acts grant regulators the authority to create regulations to carry them out. After the Bhopal Gas tragedy, the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) of 1986 went into effect and is seen as protective legislation because it closed several legal voids.
Since then, numerous environmental laws have been passed to address various environmental problems. For instance, CNG is now required for public transport vehicles in Delhi. This lowers Delhi’s air pollution.
The Relationship between Human Rights and Environmental Law
The UN General Assembly acknowledged the connection between human rights and the environment for the first time in the late 1960s. The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment acknowledged the clear connection between the environment and the right to life in 1972. The Preamble of the Stockholm Declaration indeed states that
“man is both creature and moulder of his environment, which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social, and spiritual growth.”
The well-being of man and the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including the right to life itself, depends on both the natural and constructed components of his surroundings. The Stockholm Declaration’s first principle, which states that everyone has a basic right to freedom, equality, and adequate living conditions in an environment of high enough quality to support a life of dignity and well-being, laid a further foundation for the relationship between environmental protection and human rights. The World Charter for Nature recognised in 1982 that humans are an integral component of nature and that survival depends on the ongoing operation of natural systems that supply food and energy. Human beings are at the focus of concerns for sustainable development, according to a 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (commonly known as the Earth Summit).
They have the right to live a productive, healthy life in balance with the environment. The World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 just acknowledged the idea that the environment and human rights might be related.
Although there is little indication of action being done to secure this right, the resolution emphasized the needs of the most vulnerable people of society and encouraged efforts towards the implementation of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The interest in these problems has grown during the past year. This has been a major area of concentration for ANPED as they prepare for the 2002 Summit. ANPED is establishing connections with NGOs and other organizations around the world as part of its mission. There is little question that the timing of this activity is ideal: the UN High Commission on Human Rights has requested that UNEP and the Worldwide Labour Organization co-host a worldwide seminar on these topics in 2001.
Human Rights and the Environment: Interconnectedness and Interdependence
The United Nations has taken action through its various agencies to address human rights issues that are directly tied to environmental risks and environmental regulations. General Comments 14 and 15 of the UN Human Rights Committee interpret Articles 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to include access to enough water that is safe and affordable for domestic use and sanitation, the prevention and reduction of exposure to hazardous substances like radiation and chemicals, or other unfavourable environmental conditions that hurt human health either directly or indirectly. Additionally, the UN Watercourses Convention’s Article 10 prioritises “vital human needs” when distributing and allocating limited water resources.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHR) noted in its Resolution 10/4 (2009) on climate change that “Noting that climate change-related impacts have a range of implications, both direct and indirect, for the effective enjoyment of human rights including, among others, the right to life, the right to adequate food, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to adequate housing, the right to self-determination, and human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water.
Specific Human Rights and Environmental Law Issues
A) Right to Life and Environmental Protection
Protection of the environment and human rights are intertwined. The full enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to life, the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, an adequate standard of living, adequate food, safe drinking water, sanitary conditions, housing, participation in cultural life, and development, as well as the right to maintain the health of itself, depends on a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, States are accountable for failing to shield citizens from the lethal consequences of the environmental devastation brought on by the use of biochemical fertilizers.
Environmental degradation that results from either natural causes or irresponsible human action can have an impact on people’s life expectancy. Every time a practice is known or suspected to have a detrimental impact on people’s life expectancy, the protection of the right to life requires governments to take preventative and corrective measures.
EHRDs’ right to life is continuously in jeopardy, with murder being the most obvious danger these defenders confront. Since 2015, the number of people killed while working alone or with other members of civil society to defend their natural environment and the human rights that depend on it from the harm caused by both legitimate and criminal operations has tragically increased every year.
B) Right to health and access to clean water and air
The courts in India have only ever protected the right to clean drinking water as a negative right, meaning the right not to have rivers and lakes polluted. Such protection resulted from the Supreme Court’s articulation of a fundamental right to a safe and healthy environment as an essential component of the right to life provided by Article 21 of the Constitution. Under Article 21 of our Constitution, the idea of a “healthy environment” has been developed as a component of the right to life. This idea was introduced, developed, and built upon in the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, AIR 1984 SC 802. In a flurry of water pollution cases that came before it started in the early 1990s, the Supreme Court upheld the right to clean water as a component of the right to a healthy environment.
C) Indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental conservation
In matters that are crucial to Indigenous peoples’ rights, survival, dignity, and well-being, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples stipulates that their free, prior, and informed consent must be acquired. Additionally, conversations to gain this permission must be conducted by local governance and decision-making institutions, in indigenous languages, on indigenous peoples’ schedules, and without the use of coercion or threats.
However, indigenous peoples continue to be marginalized at the local and national levels. UNEP has created a policy to support the protection of environmental defenders in response to this. Through this policy, UNEP will denounce attacks, torture, intimidation, and murder of environmental defenders; advocate for better protection of environmental rights and the individuals who fight for them; support responsible management of natural resources; and demand accountability for incidents in which environmental defenders have been harmed.
To assist indigenous peoples, UNEP also collaborates with religious authorities and communities through the Interfaith Rainforest Initiative. The reciprocal acknowledgement of the sanctity of life and nature, as well as the equality of the world’s religions and the traditional faiths of indigenous peoples, are fundamental themes in our work. By facilitating the resolution of long-standing conflicts between faiths and indigenous peoples, we seek to contribute to the preservation of traditional knowledge and the healing of our world.
D) Right to food security and sustainable agriculture
To sustainably boost agricultural production, enhance the global supply chain, reduce food losses and waste, and guarantee that everyone who suffers from hunger and malnutrition has access to nourishing food, much more work and innovation will be urgently required as the world’s population continues to rise. At the 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development, world leaders reaffirmed that everyone has the fundamental right to be free from hunger and the right to adequate food, which are all consistent with the right to access safe and nourishing food. From a comprehensive and integrated standpoint, sustainable agricultural practices and food systems, encompassing both production and consumption, must be sought.
It is crucial to use and manage land, healthy soils, water, and plant genetic resources sustainably because they are essential components of food production and are becoming increasingly scarce in many regions of the world. Reduced pressure to remove forests for agricultural production might also result from increasing yields on currently used agricultural areas, including the rehabilitation of degraded lands, through sustainable farming practices.
Provisions of Human Rights and Environmental Law in India
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution’s Right to Life section refers to the right to a safe environment. Every person has a fundamental right to live in a clean environment, according to the Indian Constitution. The Constitution makes it clear that human and environmental rights are mutually dependent. Article 48 A of the Directive Principal of State Policy acknowledges the value of environmental law.
Article 48A of the Indian Constitution encourages the states to take proactive measures for the protection and improvement of the environment. It emphasizes the duty of the government to safeguard and preserve the nation’s forests and wildlife. While the Constitution acknowledges the importance of environmental conservation, it does not explicitly mandate every state to make significant efforts. The responsibility for maintaining a clean environment is shared by both the government and the citizens.
Overall, the Indian Constitution does place a strong emphasis on the relationship between human rights and the environment, recognizing the need for environmental preservation and the government’s role in taking action. It also highlights the fundamental responsibility of all citizens to contribute to maintaining a clean environment.
The case you mentioned, Sachidanand Pandey v. State of West Bengal, (1987 AIR 1109), is indeed an important judgment by the Supreme Court regarding environmental protection. In this case, the court emphasized the duty of the state and the citizens to protect and improve the environment.
Role of the Judiciary in Protecting the Environment
Even though many legislative measures have been taken to safeguard the environment and fundamental human rights, courts and tribunals are crucial in interpreting the law and advancing environmental jurisprudence. The Indian judicial system is crucial to safeguarding fundamental rights. Many decisions demonstrate the judiciary’s importance in environmental protection.
The Indian Supreme Court ruled in Francis Coralie Mullin v. Union Territory of Delhi (1981) that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes the right to live with dignity. The Supreme Court ruled in M. C. Mehta v. UOI (1986) that environmental issues should be prioritized over employment issues in favour of life, health, and the environment.
According to the Charan Lal Sahu case decision by the supreme court, the right to a healthy environment is now a part of Article 21’s right to life. Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar, (AIR 1991 SC 420), a historic decision, established that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution’s fundamental right to life includes the right to a pollution-free environment, clean water, and air to enjoy the fullest. The Indian judicial system did a fantastic job of bringing up the topic of environmental protection, defending civil rights, and including the right to a clean, healthy environment within the framework of fundamental rights to give those who have been harmed by environmental law recourse.
Subhash Kumar v. State of Bihar (AIR 1991 SC 420)
It is clear from the case’s facts and the arguments put out by both sides that the petitioner lacked a solid legal basis for her claim that the respondents’ washeries were contaminating the Bokaro River. Instead, the Bench accepted the Respondents’ arguments while noting that the Bihar State Pollution Board has implemented successful steps to reduce and avoid pollution. The petitioner has been buying slurry from the Respondent for several years, and as time went on, he wanted more slurry, but the respondent firm rejected his request, according to the counter-affidavits presented on behalf of the Respondent.
The Petitioner, an influential businessman with a coal dealing licence, tried to persuade the Respondents to give him more slurry, and when they refused, he started harassing them. To obtain authorization to collect slurry from the raiyat property, the petitioner filed several proceedings before the Patna High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution. The current petition was not submitted in the public interest but rather for personal gain; as a result, public interest litigation could not be maintained, and the court did not consider going into more detail.
Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi, 1981 AIR 746
The Court awarded relief to the petitioner and allowed the writ petition, concluding that Section 3(b)(i), which limits a detainee’s right to an interview with the legal counsel of his choice, is unconstitutional since it contravenes Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The Court further declared that it is fair for the detainee to meet with his legal counsel at any reasonable time during the day following the detainee’s appointment with the jail superintendent, which should be made without unnecessary delay.
The Court further stated that the interview need not be conducted in front of a designated Customs, Central Excise, or Enforcement officer and that any other jail official may, if required, observe the interview, but not to be in earshot of the detainee and the legal counsel. The Court declared Section 3(b)(ii) unlawful because it limits the number of times a detainee can meet with her family and friends to once per month while allowing an under-trial prisoner and a convicted prisoner to use this privilege twice and once per week, respectively.
The full enjoyment of human rights is unquestionably impacted by inadequate environmental protection. Human rights and the environment are interconnected in a way that promotes not only sustainable development but also improves the human rights system and broadens the protection of human rights in the environmental sphere. Because the environment and human rights are intertwined, only when the environment is safeguarded are human rights protected. India’s courts take environmental and human rights very seriously because they understand that losing nature cannot be replaced. In India, the judiciary works to close the gap and connect environmental legislation and human rights.
Environmental issues have not been resolved despite numerous laws and legislative measures. For sustainable growth to occur, laws must be implemented correctly and are subject to regular examination. The Law Commission of India proposed in its 186th report to establish an environment court with a specific judge to handle environmental disputes; so, the establishment of environment courts and the strengthening of the judiciary are urgently needed. It is time to acknowledge that individuals who pollute the environment also violate human rights.
 Intersection between Human Rights and Environmental Law: The Scenario in India, Available Here
 The Role of Ethnic and Indigenous People of India and their Culture in the Conservation of Biodiversity, Available Here
 Right to Life, Available Here
 International Laws for Environmental Protection and Role of Judiciary in India, Available Here
 Hench Goh, 9 Core International Instruments of Human Rights, Available Here
 Rahul Deo, Environmental Protection And Supreme Court Activism, Available Here
 MC Mehta vs. Union of India (1986): Case analysis, Available Here