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Contemporary Issues of Human Rights in India: Human Rights and Environmental Law in India

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Contemporary Issues of Human Rights in India: Human Rights and Environmental Law in India essay
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As far as back in 1968, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution acknowledging the maintenance of the environment along with the human rights. It has been widely seen that degradation of the environment affects the enjoyment of human rights like the right to life and right to health. The linkage between environment and human rights are recognized at the national and international level. Certain texts, at the national and international level, show the importance between both the environment and human rights. The international and regional courts have also evolved the jurisprudence in favor of the right to clean and healthy environment. Within the Indian constitution, the chapter of Directive Principle of State Policy also recognizes the concept of the healthy environment within the ‘right of life’ under article 21 of Indian Constitution.

By looking from the historical perspective one can realize that the protection and safeguard of the environment have been integral to many of the human communities. The paper basically addresses the inter-linkages between Human Rights and Environment from time immemorial to the present times in different religions practiced in various countries with emphasis on Indian perspective. The two disciplines are interlinked since the first time United Nations recognized the link between human rights and environmental protection in a 1968 resolution. Though there was a separate early development of human rights law and environmental law; they still have an important element in common. This paper also tries to find the reasons which are responsible for, and human rights abuses which are actually responsible for worsened environmental conditions.

The research objective tends to know the importance of human rights at the national and international level along with the environmental law. The contemporary issues of human rights include many of it. But the present paper focuses on the relation of human rights and environmental law. The main objective is to solve the issues of environmental law as a human right and lessen the gap between them.

The Indian judiciary has preserved the jurisprudence of law and worked on it. The history of environmental law is not of the near past. The concept is evolved with the Vedic time period, but now the execution is in a different form as certain laws are made on it. The importance of environment leads to many of the growth rates and to the flourishing India but with the advancement in the technology and with the growth it has become difficult to maintain that forests and safeguard the environment. The effect of it can be seen with the depriving of the air and the problems occurring due to it.

While if we look at the history and development of human rights, the past doesn’t ensure certain human rights to the human and the improper treatment of them created a chaos. Power controlled the power was the scenario and no actions can be taken against it. This was the case since the second world war- when after the development in the world, the UN recognized the need for the human rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was brought into the picture. Broadly speaking, human rights are the rights which are possessed by every human being, irrespective of his or her nationality, race, religion, sex, etc. simply because he or she is a human being. Human rights are thus those rights which are inherent in our nature and without which we cannot live as human beings.

As we saw the historical evolvement of both- Human rights and environment, but how both of it is related that the degradation in one of it gives the effect to other? Well, both of the concepts results in an effective and direct relationship with each other. The following shows how human rights and the environment are related.

Over the years, the international community has increased its awareness on the relationship between environmental degradation and human rights abuses. It is clear that poverty situations and human rights abuses are worsened by environmental degradation. This is for several obvious reasons:

Firstly, the exhaustion of natural resources leads to unemployment and emigration to cities. Secondly, this affects the enjoyment and exercise of basic human rights. Environmental conditions contribute to a large extent, to the spread of infectious diseases.

Thirdly, degradation poses new problems such as environmental refugees. Environmental refugees suffer from significant economic, socio-cultural, and political consequences.

For the first time, the General Assembly of the United Nations initially recognized the link between human rights and environmental protection in a 1968 resolution. It can be argued human right must be recognized in order to address the problems caused by the deterioration of the environment. Sometimes it is also suggested that the right to a healthy environment become one of the emerging third generations right.

Looking at the role of Indian Judiciary has time and again recognized the human right to the environment very artistically. India has been very sophisticated Jurisprudence in terms of environmental rights, there are still many problems existing the project addresses the same.

The materialistic relation between the human rights and the environment indulges about the most surprising points about human right is while environmental regulations may always be amended or repealed human rights by and large remains inviolable. This aspect gives a smooth angle for viewing environmental justice from a human right perspective. One of the arguments against human right can be that objectives of human right and environmental law may be in conflict with each other. As we all know that human survival requires consideration of the needs of the present as well the needs of the future generation. This is a well-proven fact that preservation of resources for future generation is a cure for the problem which has evolved for the present and future era.[1]

The issue made its place at the international level before environmental concerns did. While the charters of the United Nations of 1945 gave the beginning in the modern international law. The degrading position of the environment at the international level leads to a concern as the human rights were greatly affected. The Stockholm Declaration of 1972 can be considered as the starting point for the modern framework at the international level for the environmental protection.

However due to their different beginnings, human rights and environmental law have an important element in common: they are both seen as a challenge, degradation of both is seen, and as both are interconnected one affects the another.

The linkage between human rights and environmental concerns embrace at least three aspects in the international arena:- The right to a healthy environment is a fundamental part of the right to life and to personal integrity.- Environmental destruction can result in discrimination and racism. Thus, socially and economically disadvantaged groups seem to live more often than other groups do in areas where environmental problems pose a real threat to human health.-Procedural human rights such as access to information, access to justice and participation in political decision making are often crucial for ensuring policies that respect environmental concerns.

Environmental and human rights law have essential points in common that enable the creation of a field of cooperation between the two: Firstly, both disciplines have deep social roots; even though human rights law is more rooted within the collective consciousness, the accelerated process of environmental degradation is generating a new “environmental consciousness.”

Secondly, both disciplines have become internationalized. The international community has assumed the commitment to observe the realization of human rights and respect for the environment. From the Second World War onwards, the relationship State-individual is of pertinence to the international community. On the other hand, the phenomenon brought on by environmental degradation transcends political boundaries and is of critical importance to the preservation of world peace and security. The protection of the environment is internationalized, while the State-Planet Earth relationship has become a concern of the international community.

Thirdly, both areas of law tend to universalize their object of protection. Human Rights are presented as universal and the protection of the environment appears as everyone’s responsibility.

The Emerging Right To Environment [2]At the United Nations 1992 “Conference on Environment and Development” (UNCED), greatly called as the Earth Summit the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, also known as Rio Declaration was a produced. The Rio Declaration includes 27 principles and purposed to sustainable development around the world. Certain principle 1 says – ‘The role of humans: Human beings can be considered at the center for sustainable development.’

Three different concepts of environmental rights have been prescribed:

  • environment rights as separate human rights
  • environment rights as encompassed within previously established human rights
  • environmental rights as rights of the environment in and of itself, regardless of its effects on people

The concept conceives of environment rights in convention to the human rights. Article 11 of the San Salvador Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted in 1988 and was implemented in November 1999, can be considered as a good illustration where the state states that “ everyone shall have the right to live in a healthy environment and to have access to basic public services.”

At last, it should be noted that: “All human beings have the fundamental right to have a healthy environment and a clean surrounding.” Also, it should be noted that, although the environment as a human right is barely mentioned in the documents, elements of this right can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Another concept of environmental rights conceives of such rights as included in existing human rights such as the right to life, right to health or the right to property also included in the constitution of India attached with the fundamental rights of the citizens.

Further inclusion of the concept is treating environmental rights such as rights belonging to the environment itself. In this “ecocentric” view environmental rights are human rights only in the sense that they require humans to enforce them. As this types of rights are not yet recognized much by the bodies and the judges of the court because they don’t have such precedents or any codified law. The concept is born with the situation occurring in the surrounding covering the whole world.

Approaches to Environmental Law and Human Rights

In the resolution, the United Nations general assembly recalled the charter by stating the all the individuals are entitled to have the pure air and a healthy surrounding adequate of their living. The resolution ensured for the betterment of the environment and to get purified the natural resources. The principle of Stockholm Declaration established a foundation for linking human rights and environmental protection stating that:’ Man has the fundamental right to freedom, quality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well being.”

During the three decades since the Stockholm Declaration, the links established in the conference were elaborated in various ways in international legal instruments and the decisions and working of human rights bodies were done accordingly.

The first approach, perhaps closest to the Stockholm Declaration is one where environmental protection is described as a pre-condition to fulfilling human rights standards and the enjoyment of internationally guaranteed human rights especially the rights to life and health. Environmental protection is thus an essential instrument in the effort to secure the effective universal enjoyment of human rights. Klaus Toepfer reflected this approach in his statement to the 57th Session of the Commission on Human Rights in 2001 when he said. “Human rights cannot be secured in a degraded or polluted environment. The fundamental right to life is threatened by soil degradation and deforestation and by exposures to toxic chemicals, hazardous wastes, and contaminated drinking water… Environmental conditions clearly help to determine the extent to which people enjoy their basic rights to life, health, adequate food and housing, and traditional livelihood and culture. It is time to recognize that those who pollute and destroy the natural environment are not just committing a crime against nature, but are violating human rights as well.

The second rights-based approach highlights the presently existing human rights as a route to environmental protection and states, “the legal protection of human rights is an effective means to achieving the ends of conservation and environmental protection”. It views certain human rights as essential elements to achieving environmental protection which has as a principal aim the protection of human health. This approach is well illustrated by the Rio Declaration which formulates a link between human rights and environmental protection largely in procedural terms, declaring in Principle 10 that access to information, public participation and effective judicial and administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, should be guaranteed because “environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level” There exists, however, a raging debate on whether to recognize an actual and independent right to a satisfactory environment as a legally enforceable right.

The third approach and most recent is to deny the existence of any formal connection between human rights and the environment. Rather it views the links as indivisible and inseparable and posits the right to a safe and healthy environment as an independent substantive right. Accordingly, there is no requirement for an environmental human right. The argument goes that, since the Stockholm Conference in 1972, the international environmental law has developed to such extents that even the domestic environments of states have been internationalized. However, there are many who oppose this view arguing that there is, in fact, a benefit to bringing the environmental law under the ambit of human rights. The argument goes further that environmental law has in many parts of the world, at both international and domestic level suffered from the problem of standing; and because of this inherent barrier, it is often difficult for individuals or groups to challenge infringements on environmental law, treaties or directives.

Human Rights Instruments and Environmental Protection

Probably all of the treaties and agreements at the international level were drafted and signed long before when the environmental protection became an issue at the international level. As a result of this, there are certain instruments which can be helpful to the human rights but the exact solution of the situation is not found yet. But some of the instruments are helpful in solving the matter. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, provides for the right to life, liberty, and security of persons in Article 3 and the right to health in Article 25.

At the international level there are certain human rights instruments- the International Covenant on Economic, social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in Article 7(b) guarantees the right to safe and healthy conditions of work and in Article 10 the right of every child and young person to be free from work harmful to their health while Article 12 expressly calls on state parties to take steps for “the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene.” The Convention on Rights of Child refers to aspects of environmental protection in respect to the child rights to health. Article 24 provides that states parties shall take appropriate measures to combat disease and malnutrition concerning Indigenous and Tribal People in Independent countries contains numerous references to the lands, resources, and environment of indigenous people.

Judicial interventions

When the problem of environment raised at the extreme level, there was the absence of the helpful policies in 1948 under environmental issues which have been raised incidentally, through the assertion of protected rights, such rights that protect the integrity of persons and their immediate surroundings. Consequently, environmental claims brought before the regional human rights convention controlling organs have been formulated as violations of:

  1. The right to life.
  2. The right to respect for privacy and family life.
  3. The right to peaceful enjoyment of property and
  4. The right to obtain information concerning risk to health and safety.

After the 1972 Stockholm Convention and following from the development ratio that is taking place after working on the issue through the intervention of national and international and regional courts in various parts of the world, the courts are moving the right to healthy environment up the hierarchy of human rights by recognizing it as a fundamental right.

The basic rights granted are increasingly being enforced by courts. In India for example, a series of judgments between 1996 and 2000 responded to health concerns caused by industrial pollution in Delhi. In the case of Charan Lal Sahu V. Union of India[4], the supreme court of India interpreted the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian constitution to include the right to wholesome environment.

In the case of Subhash Kumar V. State of Bihar[5], the court observed that the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of constitution includes the right of enjoyment of pollution- free water and air for full enjoyment of life.


The challenges that are seen in context with the present paper are:

  • In spite of the Universal Declaration and the resolutions signed the situation day by day is getting worst.
  • The human rights are getting infringed by getting the unhealthy atmosphere.
  • The policies that are made are not properly functioned may be of the gap between the framing and the present situations.
  • The concept of sustainable development is initiated at a very good level but proper implementation of it is not seen.
  • The basic right of the citizens of having a healthy life is in danger at a worldwide level, which makes the issues a very sensitive issue.

Suggestions and Recommendations

Certain suggestions and recommendations for the challenges that can be seen in the context of the present paper. They are:

  • With the time going there should be amendments in the resolutions made as per the situations prevailing.
  • The new laws should be made accordingly to the requirements with the foregoing time.
  • The implementations of the laws should be strictly done in such a way that there is an improvement in the environment and the human rights also get preserved.
  • To take care of the extinct resources and to see that proper renewable usage is done of it.
  • The production should be continued but it has to be seen that the pollution level doesn’t harm the human rights and healthy air can be inhaled by the citizens.
  • Both the law: environmental law and human rights should work hand in hand.

Research techniques

The research technique used for the present paper is Desk research and conceptual research. It includes the analyzing and gathering the data through online media. Another research technique includes the analyzing the writings available on the concept that we opt for in the books by different authors.

Reliable sources

The reliable sources are:

  • Dr. S. K. Kapoor; Human Rights;7th edition(2017)
  • Mahesh Rangarajan; Environmental issues in India; 1st edition(2006)
  • Dr. Ashish Shrivastav; Environment Protection And Human Rights in India: An analytically Study
  • Websites

To conclude we can say that though human rights and environmental law are entirely a different discipline as a whole, evidently they both are closely connected. Human rights are the right enjoyed by the human being by virtue of them being human beings, on the other hand, there is need to protect the environment because these rights cannot be enjoyed to the fullest without the conservation and protection of the environment. As we increasingly recognize the serious the impact of the environmental degradation on human health, we are better placed to adjust our policies and cultural practices to reflect our enhanced understanding. As a result, we should be able to protect human rights and human dignity within it’s broader social, economic and cultural context and should value those who are actively engaged in the environmental and public health areas. The proper usage if the natural resources should be done and should also see that both- environment and human rights are equally managed and no harm to the human life is done. The sustainable model of the world should be preserved so that future generations can get a proper and healthy environment.

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Contemporary Issues of Human Rights in India: Human Rights and Environmental Law in India. (2018, October 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from
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