Supreme Court Judgement on Climate Change


10:55 AM

1 min read
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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • Background of the case
  • Key highlights of the judgement
  • Conclusion

Why in News?

In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court has expanded the scope of Articles 14 and 21 to include the right against the adverse effects of climate change.

Background of the Case

  • The recent judgment came on a petition by wildlife activists to protect the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), a critically endangered bird found only in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
  • Protection of GIB and April 2021 verdict of SC
    • In April 2021, SC had ordered restrictions on the setting-up of overhead transmission lines in an area covering about 99,000 square kilometres.
    • It mooted conversion of overhead low and high voltage lines into underground power lines.
  • Government sought modification in the order
    • The Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, Ministry of Power, and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy later approached the SC, seeking modification of its directions.
    • The govt claimed this direction will harm India’s global commitments to reduce the carbon footprint by increasing dependence on renewable energy sources.
    • This is because the major solar and wind energy producing installations of the country fall in the same area.
    • It was also contended that putting high voltage power lines underground was technically not feasible.
  • SC modifies its April 2021 order
    • In March 2024, the Apex Court pointed to the practical difficulties in implementing the order, including the technical and land acquisition challenges and prohibitive costs.
    • While delivering this verdict, SC touched upon the issues of climate change jurisprudence and the need to harness renewable energy as well as balance the conservation of the GIB with the conservation of environment as a whole.

Key Highlights of the Judgement

  • Pointed out technical challenges in implementing the April 2021 order
    • The SC said that underground power transmission cables are available only in 400 KV with lengths of 250 metre.
    • This would mean more joints leading to leaks. The transmission loss in such cables is about five times higher as they don’t efficiently transmit AC power.
    • Also, the Electricity Act does not contemplate the acquisition of land for laying underground cables.
      • Overhead transmission lines require only the right of way.
  • Formed nine-member committee of experts
    • SC set up a nine-member committee of experts to assess the feasibility of undergrounding power lines in specific areas. 
    • It also asked the committee to submit a report by July 31, 2024.
  • Pointed out India’s commitment towards renewable energy
    • The court pointed out that India aimed to achieve an installed renewable energy capacity (excluding large hydro) of 175 GW (Gigawatts) by 2022.
      • The future goal is of 450 GW installed capacity by 2030.
    • This goal signifies the country’s commitment to clean energy adoption.
    • The court further said that:
      • India’s commitment to transition to non-fossil fuels is not just a strategic energy goal but a fundamental necessity for environmental preservation. 
      • Investing in renewable energy not only addresses these urgent environmental concerns but also yields a plethora of socio-economic benefits.
  • Highlighted the benefits of promotion of renewable energy
    • The promotion of renewable energy sources plays a crucial role in promoting social equity by ensuring access to clean and affordable energy for all segments of society, especially in rural and underserved areas. 
    • This contributes to poverty alleviation, enhances quality of life, and fosters inclusive growth and development across the nation.
  • India urgently needs to shift to solar power due to three impending issues
    • Firstly, India is likely to account for 25% of global energy demand growth over the next two decades.
      • This necessitates a move towards solar for enhanced energy security and self-sufficiency while mitigating environmental impacts.
      • Failure to do so may increase dependence on coal and oil, leading to economic and environmental costs.
    • Secondly, rampant air pollution emphasises the need for cleaner energy sources like solar to combat pollution caused by fossil fuels. 
    • Lastly, declining groundwater levels and decreasing annual rainfall underscore the importance of diversifying energy sources. 
      • Solar power, unlike coal, does not strain groundwater supplies.
  • Climate change through the lens rights
    • The court said that the intersection between climate change and human rights has been put in sharp focus recently.
    • This underscores the imperative for states to address climate impacts through the lens of rights.
    • The right to a healthy and clean environment is undoubtedly a part of this duty of care. 
    • States are compelled to take effective measures to mitigate climate change and ensure that all individuals have the necessary capacity to adapt to the climate crisis.
  • Highlighted the existing constitutional provisions and associated challenges
    • Article 48A of the Constitution provides that the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country. 
    • Clause (g) of Article 51A stipulates that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.
    • However, these are not justiciable provisions, they are mere indications that the Constitution recognises the importance of the natural world.
  • Expanded the scope of fundamental rights to include right against adverse effects of climate change
    • Article 21 recognises the right to life and personal liberty while Article 14 indicates that all persons shall have equality before law and the equal protection of laws. 
    • These Articles are important sources of the right to a clean environment and the right against the adverse effects of climate change.
      • Without a clean environment which is stable and unimpacted by the vagaries of climate change, the right to life is not fully realised. 
      • The right to health (which is a part of the right to life under Article 21) is impacted due to factors such as air pollution, shifts in vector-borne diseases, rising temperatures, droughts, etc. 
      • The inability of underserved communities to adapt to climate change or cope with its effects violates the right to life (Article 21) as well as the right to equality (Article 14).


The Supreme Court has, from time to time, expanded the fundamental rights chapter to include various facets of a dignified existence. However, this is the first time that it has included the “right against the adverse effects of climate change.

Q.1. What is Great Indian Bustard (GIB)?

The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is a large bird that lives in dry grasslands and scrublands on the Indian subcontinent. It is one of the world's heaviest flying birds and is the state bird of Rajasthan.

Q.2. What is Article 21 of the Constitution of India?

Article 21 of the Constitution of India protects the right to life and personal liberty. It states that no person can be deprived of these rights except according to a procedure established by law. This fundamental right is available to all people, both citizens and non-citizens.