The Constitution of India opens with the Preamble which beholds some of the world’s most valued ideals: justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. The chief architect of the law of our land, B.R. Ambedkar had pointed out that it is not enough to be content with mere political democracy, rather we should strive for social democracy. Climate change has emerged as one of the biggest developmental challenges which no longer remains an environmental concern. It stands as a major hurdle in governance, especially in a country like India.
According to the 2011 census, 104 million people (8.6% of India’s population) are recognized as tribals under the Indian constitution. Fundamental rights such as freedom of movement, equality of status and opportunity may be snatched away from them owing to the fact that they reside in environmentally critical locations such as forests and coastlines. A continued trend that can be spotted is that those who have contributed the least to global warming are forced to pay the highest price.
The natural balance of ecosystems at global and local levels will be drastically altered by climate change and the human settlements near environmentally critical locations will be infringed. Consequently, issues such as loss of livelihood, food insecurity and lack of employment opportunities will be faced by vulnerable groups. According to Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland (2007), poor people are more predisposed to climate change because of their limited capacities with respect to the changing environment.
Global warming may exacerbate existing shortages of water. In many of the rural and tribal areas, women are largely responsible for the collection of water and the changes in the climate and seasons which affect the availability and quality of water makes them more vulnerable to climate change. Because of compromised forest land and water bodies, the income generating activities, by extension income, will also be reduced. Many of the tribal populations earn a living through eco-tourism, however, it faces a potential threat of extinction.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index (2020), India is the 5th most vulnerable nation to the impacts of climate change. The report also pointed out that since 1992, an estimated 25,000 Indians died because of heatwaves. A 2019 study conducted by Tata Centre for Development (TCD) estimated that by 2100, approximately 1.5 million more people may die in India each year because of extreme heat.
True, the Fundamental Rights do not specifically speak about environmental rights. But when Article 21, Article 48-A and Article 51-A (g) are read together, the State is responsible for protection of the environment and also the people.
Right to life also includes the right to know. Gaslighting the citizens is never going to help the cause. They should be made aware of the plans and policies on climate change and also the graveness of the situation. Taking away the rights of one community is never going to solve the issue of climate change. Right to life is not a privilege. It is a fundamental and inalienable right.
This article has been written by Ruchira Sharma for The Paradigm
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