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Protecting Life And Environment: Supreme Court Recognises The Right Against Adverse Effects Of Climate Change Under Article 21

saksham bharadwaj ,
  18 April 2024       Share Bookmark

Court :
The Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
Writ Petition (Civil) No. 838 of 2019

Case title:  

M K Ranjitsinh & Ors v Union of India & Ors. 

Date of Order:

21.03.2024

Bench:

Humbly submitted before the Hon’ble SUPREME COURT OF INDIA.

Parties:

Appellant: M K Ranjitsinh & Ors 

Respondents: Union of India & Ors. 

Judge:

Hon’ble Dr Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, CJI; J B Pardiwala; J Manoj Misra.

Subject:

The Supreme Court addresses the decline in the population of the Great Indian Bustard, trying to balance out its conservation with renewable sources of energy development. The appellant requested protection of habitat but with this arose many complications pertaining to international commitments and technical challenges. The court modified its previously given order and appointed a committee to monitor new directions given for the same. Hence, the court aimed to preserve the species by maintaining the needs of energy/international obligations and environmental conservation

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS

[CONSTITUTION OF INDIA]

●    ARTICLE 14 & 21: Right to have equality and Right to life and personal liberty play an imperative role as these are deriving sources to make a pure environment and the right against the adverse effects of climate change.

●    ARTICLE 32: provides constitutional remedies to seek jurisdiction and file writs to enforce fundamental rights.

●    ARTICLE 48A & 51A(g): Represents that state and citizens both have a duty to protect and improve natural environment like forests, lakes, etc respectively.

 OVERVIEW (Brief Facts)

●    The case of M K Ranjitsinh & Ors v Union of India & Ors. is interwoven with the delicate balance between the conservation of the environment and seriously endangered bird species (nearly extinct), the species of GIB (Great Indian Bustard) and the Lesser Florican.

●    The case is about the mission to counter adversely changing climate, without altering the mandatory conventions (domestic and international).

●    The GIB is native to southern and western regions especially the regions with grasslands or arid regions. The state of Rajasthan is the home to the current population of the flock.

●    But the population of these birds has been on the decline ever since, putting them on the verge of extinction (currently critically endangered as per IUCN). The assessment by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) showed a decline from 2011 till 2018 when the most recent assessment was done.

●    The number placed of the GIBs was about 50 - 249. Whereas, the data as per the state showed that only about 125 birds were left.

●    The factors given for the dwindling population were due to pollution, climate change, predators, invasive species, loss of habitat, etc.

●    It was also emphasized that a segment of the decline in their population was due to the overhead transmission lines. Also, the bird lays only 1 egg at a time that incubates for approximately a month in the cavities of the ground and is vulnerable to local predators like mongooses and lizards.

●    Hence, based on the factors mentioned above a writ petition under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution was filed seeking guidelines relating to the conservation of the species.

ISSUES RAISED

The core issues that were raised in this case were related to:

  • What steps could be taken for the protection and recovery of the GIB?
  • To balance the conservation efforts with the development of renewable energy.
  • Whether there was a need to appoint a committee of experts to monitor and prepare data.
  • To manage the delicate balance between the conventions of international and domestic norms and work for the betterment of the living species.

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT

  • The appellants contended that the main reason for filing this petition was due to the declining population of the GIB birds which was on the verge of extinction. It was claimed there was a change in the habitat which was the causative agent of their fall in population.
  • They urged the court to order the respondents with immediate effect to establish facilities accordingly. Installations of bird diverters, dismantling overhead power lines, and instead installing underground channels for electricity, were asked for the removal of solar panels, wind turbines, and any other object(s) in their habitat-prone area.
  • It was further appealed to the Court to maintain the habitat by some preventive measures like implementing a national grazing policy; and grassland conservation policy. It was pleaded to highlight the importance of habitat and seek protection of grasslands by prohibiting the use of insecticides or pesticides that affect the species along with this a supplication was made for confining the human society to a segment so that the habitat is not killed.
  • The appellants requested the other respondents i.e. Ministry of Defence to sensitize to the need for conservation.
  • It was also requested for an appointment of an empowered committee to check on the implementation of the directions issued by the court.
  • Lastly, it was demanded that the two endangered species should be considered as one metapopulation.

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT

  • The arguments made by the respondents were that there were some complications faced by the committee appointed by the court monitoring the actions for the re-development of the habitat for the GIBs
  • It was held that respondent 4 was not given the chance to present during the session, before the judgment was passed (19th April. 2019).
  • It was presented before the court that India had international commitments including the agreement that was signed in Paris in 2015 under the framework of the United Nations over the topic of climate change etc.
  • The area that was given to be monitored was huge compared to the area in which the birds dwell.
  • Also, it was added the area could hold an abundant supply of sun rays and wind, which could be beneficial in generating energy.
  • It was raised that underground high voltage power lines would not be achievable as there are various complications to it and confinements for operating. Accordingly, the criterion for the same was given.
  • A comprehensive order was issued to the court mentioning the things related to the preservation of the GIB along with the development of society by not removing the huge potential sources of energy and also keeping track of the pacts made at the international level.
  • The additional affidavit in pursuance of the order also mentioned that the decline in the population of the bird began in the 1960s even before the electrification was done and transmission lines were made.
  • The research for the dwindling population of the GIBs was taken to be the factors like, low birth rate, poaching, use of insecticides that potentially killed locusts and other insects that could have been a potential meal of the birds causing them to starve, and die and few other grazing related issues were talked about that lead to the decline
  • In terms of statute, it was inferred that GIB is listed in Part III of Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 and the species registered under it were granted the highest level of protection from poaching.
  • It was also raised that the Union government launched different programs, one being “Habitat Improvement and Conservation Breeding of Great Indian Bustard’ launched in 2016 for their in-situ conservation.
  • Also, a dedicated team was made for supervision, which consisted of the veterinarians, local support staff, etc
  • It was also mentioned in the affidavit that few international efforts in conservation including artificial incubation methods and artificial insemination methods were being used for the survival of the chicks and was suggested that the Government of India should implement it.

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS 

  • Based on the arguments of both sides the decision that was made on 19th April 2021 restricted the setting of overhead wires of transmissions in a large swath of territory of GIBs and the construction of underground wires of high voltage was suggested (which was not possible and required technical evaluation from case to case).
  • But according to the consensus it was sad that low-powered (voltage) power lines should be laid underground and low-powered overhead lines should've been converted to underground ones.
  • Earlier, the court-appointed for supervision of the above-mentioned things. This committee later reported the actual complications it faced while doing the above tasks.
  • Later the application by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, Climate Change < power, and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy respectively was filed before the court requesting some modifications for the earlier assigned duties.
  • It was found by the court that underground cables were only available in 400kV with a drum size of 250 m max. These cables have a high number of joints and current is more likely to leak from these joints causing even greater harm to all living beings (humans and animals) in that area.
  • The places where the lines were laid had an embarking using flags, which were not enough as they flew away due to strong winds and it was termed to be impractical and unsafe. Also, it was added that AC is hard to transmit in such long wires and such cables are too pricey (about five times).
  • It was also considered that these wires, if they have a flaw, would be difficult to detect and if any delay happens in fixing the lines it could be a potential threat.
  • It was acknowledged that India has legal obligations to foreign countries too and it has to maintain this delicate relationship between nature's energy resources and the inhabitants without altering the international relations/obligations.
  • Bodies like UNFCCC and the Conventions on Biological Diversity were pledged by India to uphold its environmental stewardship, biodiversity conservation, and climate action on the global stage.
  • The court mentioned if it ordered to lay down these wired grids underground it would potentially pose a greater threat to other parts of the environment adversely and it may also impact other endangered species due to the substantial emissions of gases from the burning of fossil fuels.
  • It was opined that the conversion of power lines is a matter of environmental policy and the writ filed seeking relief in the adjudicating matter would be judicially reviewed relying on the opinions of the domain experts.
  •  Consequently, the Court modified its Judgement dated 19 April 2021.
  • It was held that given the above complications, the decision of the court needs to be recalled and with the help of an appointment of a proper expert committee, which would manage well the delicate relationship between the preservation of the GIB and the sustainable development of India keeping in mind the international norms.
  • Hence, the order dated 2021 was modified and a blanket of directions regarding these high and low-voltage underground power lines were asked to be recalibrated
  • The committee was asked to make a report for the task’s completion and other duties and submit it before July 31, 2024.

CONCLUSION

In this case, the main issue arose when the GIB was on the verge of extinction. Several preventive measures were taken into consideration which were later modified too by the court as they were not on par with mutually benefitting the potential energy resources that could be used by the country and could preserve nature and its inhabitants. Ultimately, it was decided that it is essential to maintain the delicate balance in terms of resources/international obligations and the preservation of nature which is undisputed. Hence, the decision was made accordingly mutually favouring both.
 

 
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