Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Comfortably numb

Rather than being a simple environmental issue, climate change presents an existential threat that necessitates an immediate response. The Supreme Court of India’s recent decision in the matter of MK Ranjitsinh v. Union of India, in addition to being a legal verdict, is a watershed moment that has the potential to redefine the course of climate litigation in India. An important step towards environmental justice has been taken with the apex Court’s declaration that people have a fundamental right to be free from the negative effects of climate change, based on the right to equality and life guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision was made in response to a lawsuit filed by former Government official and conservationist MK Ranjitsinh, who sought protection for the Lesser Florican and the Great Indian Bustard, two endangered species. The plea requested, among other things, the development and implementation of an emergency response strategy for the preservation and well-being of the Great Indian Bustard. A moratorium on the approval of new projects and the renewal of leases for those that currently exist, guidelines for installing bird diverters and directives for removing power lines, wind turbines and solar panels from crucial habitats are all part of this strategy. The Supreme Court had long since acknowledged that, in accordance with Article 21 of the Constitution, the right to life includes the right to live in a clean environment. The right to a healthy environment and the right to be safeguarded against climate change, the Court has recently reasoned, are two sides of the same coin; and as the threat posed by climate change grows yearly, it is essential to recognise the latter as a separate right. The concept of climate change is no longer theoretical; it is a reality that affects all facets of human existence, including the water we drink and the air we breathe. The Supreme Court’s dedication to defending people’s fundamental rights from the existential threat of climate change is demonstrated by its recognition of the right to a clean environment as an integral component of the rights to equality and life. The ruling, which emphasises the necessity for States to address climate consequences through the prism of rights, appropriately draws attention to the growing intersection between human rights and climate change. By drawing attention to cases from other jurisdictions, where courts have held Governments accountable for their failure to tackle climate change, the Supreme Court has underscored the global nature of this challenge and the imperative for collective action. A striking reminder of the human aspect of climate justice is provided by the recent verdict by the European Court of Human Rights in favour of elderly Swiss women who claimed that their right to a private and family life was violated by their Government’s inactivity on climate change. It confirms that States have an obligation to protect and maintain the general welfare of their inhabitants. Thus, the recognition of the right against climate change by the Supreme Court marks a crucial step towards environmental protection and human rights, and therefore, is a worthy leap. This acknowledgment creates an obligation on the Government to take effective measures to address the adverse effects of climate change, safeguarding not just the environment but also fundamental rights like the right to life and equality. The recent judgment underscores the interconnectedness of environmental conservation, sustainable development and human well-being. India, as a signatory to international agreements on climate change, has a responsibility to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate impacts and protect the fundamental rights of its citizens. The Supreme Court’s judgment rightly emphasises the need for India to uphold its obligations under international law and take proactive measures to safeguard the environment and the rights of future generations. Also, the SC has underlined the need to apply corrective steps: “States are compelled to take effective measures to mitigate climate change”. Year after year, we are witness to extreme weather events that expose the unpreparedness of Nagaland’s cities, towns and rural areas. Naturally, that invites question on Nagaland Government and its endeavours ~ given the authorities’ track record of apathy towards environmental concerns in the State.