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The Supreme Court’s Stance on Including Protection Against Climate Change Impacts in the Right to Life

The court revisited its directive from April 2021, which required the burial of above-ground transmission lines across more than 80,000 sq km in two states. However, it recognized the need for a more nuanced approach in executing such mandates.

Emphasizing the significant impact of climate change on the right to equality, the Supreme Court of India underscored the importance of striking a delicate balance between preserving the environment and developing infrastructure.

In light of the critical endangerment of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) and the expansion of renewable energy projects in Rajasthan and Gujarat, the apex court established a committee to tackle these urgent issues.

The bench, led by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud along with Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, expressed apprehensions regarding the detrimental effects of climate change on constitutional rights. They highlighted the interconnection between environmental stability and the rights to life and health, as outlined in Article 21. Climate change-induced consequences such as air pollution, changes in disease patterns, extreme weather events, and food scarcity pose substantial risks to these fundamental rights.

The declining population of the Great Indian Bustards, predominantly inhabiting Rajasthan and Gujarat, underscores the pressing need to address human-induced threats. Collisions with overhead power lines, particularly those associated with solar facilities, have been identified as a primary cause of GIB mortality. Their limited lateral vision hampers their ability to evade live wires, heightening the dangers posed by infrastructure encroachment.

Given these challenges, the Supreme Court’s formation of a committee underscores the necessity of balancing environmental preservation, renewable energy expansion, and the protection of constitutional rights amidst the looming specter of climate change.

The apex court highlighted that the lack of reliable electricity supply not only impedes economic progress but also disproportionately impacts various communities, including women and low-income households, thereby perpetuating inequalities.

In a ruling issued on March 21, the bench established an expert committee comprising key members from various institutions to address these issues effectively.

The committee’s scope of work will encompass the establishment of transmission lines to facilitate solar power generation.

The judgment emphasized the right to a healthy environment, affirming that every individual is entitled to reside in a clean, safe, and conducive environment. By acknowledging the rights to a healthy environment and protection from the adverse effects of climate change, states are compelled to prioritize environmental protection and sustainable development, addressing the root causes of climate change and safeguarding the well-being of current and future generations.

The bench stressed the importance for countries like India to fulfill their international obligations, including mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, adapting to climate impacts, and safeguarding the fundamental rights of individuals to live in a healthy and sustainable environment.

The ruling was issued in response to a petition by wildlife activist MK Ranjitsinh and others seeking protection for the GIB.

In its 2021 verdict on the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the top court issued a series of directives aimed at conserving the GIB, including the replacement of overhead electric cables with underground ones where feasible and the installation of bird diverters in priority areas inhabited by GIBs.