New Horizons: Indian Supreme Court Champions Rights Against Climate Change Impact

In a groundbreaking decision delivered on March 21, the Indian Supreme Court has made history by recognizing, for the first time, the right to be free from the adverse effects of climate change as a distinct and fundamental right. Citing Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, the Court underscored the importance of these constitutional provisions in safeguarding citizens from the detrimental impacts of climate change.

In a profound statement authored by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, the Court emphasized that the right to equality and the right to life must be interpreted in light of India’s national and international commitments regarding climate change and the scientific consensus on its adverse effects. The judgment emphasized the need for courts to be sensitive to the rights of affected communities, including the right against displacement.

The landmark decision also addressed a pressing environmental issue concerning the conservation of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB). In the same judgment, the Court constituted an expert committee to examine the feasibility of installing overhead and underground powerlines in priority areas for GIB conservation, aiming to mitigate the risks posed by collision with transmission wires.

Acknowledging India’s international obligations to reduce carbon emissions, the Court modified its previous blanket directive on undergrounding power lines, opting instead to entrust the matter to expert evaluation. The Court recognized the delicate balance between environmental conservation and development imperatives, urging a holistic approach that safeguards both the GIB and the broader environment.

Importantly, the Court’s decision reaffirmed the right to a healthy environment as a fundamental human right, emphasizing its significance for vulnerable communities, including indigenous groups and forest dwellers. By recognizing the interconnectedness of climate change and human rights, the Court underscored India’s responsibilities under international law, particularly in light of agreements like the Paris Agreement.

In essence, the Court’s decision heralds a new era in environmental jurisprudence, emphasizing the imperative of balancing conservation efforts with development goals. By championing the rights of citizens against the adverse impacts of climate change, the Indian Supreme Court has demonstrated its commitment to ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for all.

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