“The most significant achievement of modern law in India is the constitutionalization of environmental problems by the Supreme Court.” Discuss this statement with the help of relevant case laws.

The process of constitutionalizing environmental issues involves linking them to the infringement of the fundamental rights of individuals or communities, or the failure of the government to uphold its responsibility to implement directive principles aimed at addressing environmental concerns, in order to bring a sense of significance and urgency to these issues.

Judicial pronouncement that led to constitutionalisation of environmental problems are:

  • The Supreme Court, in the case of Subhash Kumar vs. State of Bihar (1991), recognized the right to a pollution-free environment as a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, thus giving it constitutional validity.
  • In M. C. Mehta vs. Union of India (1986), the Supreme Court introduced the “polluters pay principle” or the principle of absolute liability, making hazardous industries responsible for any environmental damage caused by their activities.
  • In the case of M. C. Mehta vs. Union of India (2020), the Supreme Court introduced the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in Delhi and NCR region to ensure the citizens’ right to clean air. This plan involves gradually curbing industrial activities as pollution levels rise.
  • The Supreme Court established the Compensatory Afforestation Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) to prevent the misuse of funds raised for afforestation, which led to the enactment of the CAMPA Act 2016, securing the citizens’ right to compensatory afforestation.

As the protector of fundamental rights, the Supreme Court has effectively utilized legal provisions and judicial rulings to safeguard citizens’ right to a dignified life by recognizing the right to a clean environment as a fundamental right.

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