When the Constitution of India was adopted in 1950, the framers had not foreseen the importance of environmental preservation. This aspect did receive attention later and, in 1976, the 42nd amendment incorporated protection of wildlife and forests in the Directive Principles. It also included forests and protection of wild animals in the Concurrent List – Seventh Schedule (Article 256) of the Constitution.
It is now enshrined in Article 51 A (g) of the Constitution that it shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests and Wildlife.
The Directive Principles of State policy – Article 48 A, mandate that the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.
The Supreme Court in its decisions has relied on the directive principles to enlarge the scope and content of the fundamental rights, thereby bringing them within the ambit of justiciable rights. Thus, the preservation of ecology and environment, based on the principle of sustainable development to reconcile the conflicting interest of development with the preservation of healthy environment, has been recognized as a facet of right to life. The principle adopted is that ecology and environment are not objects of ownership but are nature’s gift intended to be preserved in trust for future generations.
“Article 21 protects right to life as a fundamental right. Enjoyment of life and its attainment including their right to life with human dignity encompasses within its ambit, the protection and preservation of environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air, water, sanitation without which life cannot be enjoyed” – IA 670/2002 AIR SC 724
These specific Constitutional provisions and landmark judgments of the Apex Court form the bedrock on which protection and conservation of wildlife rests. They also empower civil society institutions/citizens to constructively participate in the process of protecting forests and wildlife.