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Protection from Climate Change is Fundamental Right – Supreme Court of India

The great Indian bustard, a large bird with an ostrich-like appearance found mainly in the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan, has emerged as a savior for Indian citizens. 

For the first time, the Supreme Court of India has recognized the right to protect against the damaging effects of climate change as a distinct fundamental right in the Constitution. The verdict came in a case about conserving two critically endangered bird species: the great Indian bustard and the lesser florican.

The great Indian Bustard, which was once prominently found in the Indian subcontinent, is now mainly restricted to parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The great Indian Bustard is the state bird of Rajasthan, but unfortunately, IUCN lists it as a critically endangered species. The bird faces several challenges because of pollution, climate change, predators, invasive species, and, more recently, solar generation and power transmission.

Yes, producing clean energy is endangering birds’ lives.

The states of Gujarat and Rajasthan have the highest solar generation capacity, with multiple solar parks and high power transmission lines part of the landscape. Therefore, birds that inhabit the area surrounding the solar power sites face threats as power transmission lines required for solar generation block their flight routes. Eventually, colliding with these high-voltage power lines proves fatal for these birds.

In 2021, the Court, in its earlier order, restricted the setting up of overhead transmission lines and suggested evaluating underground cabling. In the recent ruling in April 2024, the court, after hearing from different stakeholders, highlighted that it is not feasible to convert all overhead transmission lines into underground ones for multiple reasons. 

Therefore, the Supreme Court has balanced its verdict by addressing the shift to renewable energy while protecting species. Though installing power transmission lines is crucial to India’s economic growth and energy needs, it is also important that emphasis is placed on preserving natural habitats of flora and fauna.

Supreme Court, on one side, has addressed the issue of climate action through renewable energy, but on the other side, has also asked the authorities to find ways to conserve the ecology of the land. 

To emphasize the point of climate action, the Supreme Court has touched upon Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian constitution. Article 21 recognizes the right to life and personal liberty, while Article 14 indicates that all persons shall have equality before the law and the equal protection of laws.

The court said that the increasing number of climate cases threatens the fundamental human right to a healthy environment, citing the impacts of air pollution, rising temperatures, and food shortages. Additionally, the court highlighted the interconnectedness of climate change with various human rights, including health, indigenous rights, gender equality, and development.

Wrapping Up

The Supreme Court’s judgment on making climate change protection a fundamental right is extremely significant. Climate change continues to change life on Earth. The concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is causing unprecedented weather events worldwide.

India, owing to its vast population and diverse landscape, with gigantic Himalayas in the north and a more than 7,500-kilometer-long coastline in the south, is susceptible to a broad spectrum of climate disruptions.

The disruptions affect individuals’ lives and have a huge bearing on their livelihoods and the economy as a whole. In one of the reports released by India’s central bank, The Reserve Bank of India, it was highlighted that up to 4.5 percent of India’s GDP could be at risk by 2030 owing to lost labor hours from climate events like extreme heat and humidity.

The Supreme Court verdict marks a significant step in recognizing and addressing the impacts of climate change on individuals and communities in India without compromising on climate action. This verdict paved the way for other countries to follow.

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