"The Supreme Court of India has appreciably extrapolated the interpretation of Article 21 to include Right to Clean and Healthy Environment within its meaning. I hope constitutional courts of other jurisdictions follow the same example and gather courage to give constitutional standing to environmental rights of their people," remarked the President of East African Court of Justice, Justice Emmanuel Ugarishebuja. He was speaking along with three other very prominent judges from Belgium, USA, and Brazil, who had gathered at Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) of O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, for a panel discussion on the role of judiciary in dealing with climate change. While they exhorted the student and academic community to be sensitized and responsible towards the cause of environment, the judges hoped that the constitutional courts of many other countries would follow the Supreme Court of India in upholding the rule of law and giving environmental rights a constitutional standing through contemporaneous interpretation.
The visiting judges are very influential voices in the area of environment law and policy. They are Justice Michael D. Wilson, Judge, Supreme Court of Hawaii; Justice Antonio Benjamin, Judge, National High Court of Brazil; Justice Emmanuel Ugarishebuja, President, East African Court of Justice; and Justice Luc Lavrysen, Judge, Constitutional Court of Belgium. While making their individual remarks, these jurists threw light on some experiences from their own jurisdictions to highlight the role played by judicial bodies in upholding the rule of law which gives environment its due place in the system.
"Inter-generational equity is the most important aspect of our fight against climate change and the responsibility of upholding this principle falls equally upon all the stakeholders including the judiciary," were the introductory remarks made by Prof. C. Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University, who also exhorted his students and faculty members to take up this responsibility.
Justice Antonio Benjamin from the National High Court of Brazil who is also spearheading the establishment of UNEP, supported Global Justice Institute at Geneva recalled how Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the only Head of State other than the Swedish Prime Minister, when the world community had first met at Stockholm for a global meeting on environment in the year 1972. "While most of the countries took long to realise the significance of environmental concerns which had been staring at us, India was always ahead of the league. Additions of Articles 48A and 51A(g) to the constitution back in the 1970s are a testimony to this," noted Justice Antonio while explaining the poignant and far reaching wordings of these key provisions, which now have become the cornerstone of India's constitutional foundations for environment protection.
Justice Michael D. Wilson, Judge Supreme Court of Hawaii, who is also an Adjunct Professor at Jindal Global Law School, highlighted the role to be played by youth in making the world a better place. "I grew up surfing in clean ocean waters of Hawaii but these days I have to surf with the garbage," he remarked while telling stories of environment deterioration from his home state of Hawaii. "I am currently addressing the descendants of Emperor Ashoka, who was one of the earliest to establish rule of law with insistence upon conservation of nature," he noted further while exhorting students.
"States can lose disputes if they ignore established principles like Precautionary Principle and this is the role judicial bodies play to uphold the rule of law and oversee that these established norms of environment protection are not ignored," remarked Justice Emmanuel Ugarishebuja, while narrating an ongoing case in his court against the State of Tanzania where Tanzanian government has been sued in connection with a highway construction project.
The fourth panelist Justice Luc Lavrysen, Judge, Constitutional Court of Belgium, took the discussion forward and commented, "The words used in Rio Declaration do not refer to the phrase 'precautionary principle' but use the phrase 'precautionary approach'. This evolution of 'approach' to a universal 'principle' through judicial interpretations highlights the role that judiciary can play in defining these norms in realistic terms and fill the gap that exists between different jurisdictions."
The session also saw an interaction with the students moderated by JGLS faculty member Prof. Kshitij Bansal where students asked questions related to sensitive issues like the conflict between tradition and environment conservation, and the issue of Sustainable Development Goals.