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M.C. Mehta v. Union of India

Divya Issarani, Student, Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur

Introduction

Very well known as the Taj Trapezium Case, it is a landmark case in the field of environmental law. People talked about nature, its degradation and protection which took a legal path and reached the honourable Supreme Court of India. The waste from the industries not only deteriorated the condition our natural resources and badly affected the environment and its creatures but also seized the beauty of the prominent monument of India and world heritage, the Taj Mahal. Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) refers to an area of 10,400 sq. km. of the trapezium-shaped area around Taj Mahal covering five districts in the region of Agra.[1] The Taj Mahal is the marble tomb built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is the splendid example of Mughal architecture with elegant dome structure and minarets, huge gardens and fountains, owing to the artistic engineering of workers and was declared as the World Heritage Site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1983.


Background

Due to the presence of industries and factories in and on the outskirts of TTZ, the pollutants and untreated chemical waste are discharged from them, which degrade the environment. The primary source of damage is the emission of Sulphur dioxide from the Mathura refinery, which mixes with oxygen and moisture in the atmosphere and precipitates in the form of ‘acid rain’. It reacted with the pure white marble of the monument, which turned yellow and patches of black and brown colour covered the stones too due to corrosion. The inner chambers of the Taj where the Tombs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are placed are affected too and have a layer of decayed material, fungus, on it. Not only the industries but also the vehicular emissions, generators, brick furnaces. have disturbed surroundings as they result in noise pollution and dreadful conditions in the Taj Trapezium Zone.


Public activist and lawyer, M.C. Mehta visited the Taj Mahal and noticed the degrading magnificence of the Taj and filed public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court to prevent pollution and save the aesthetic view of the Taj Mahal. The decision came only in the year 1996 as first, the court directed the pollution control boards to assess the situation of the monument, second prepare list of industries in TTZ and submit a report in the court. The apex court held that the industries have to stop using coal/coke as they being air pollutants, damaged the life in TTZ. It also directed explicitly to 292 industries to switch to natural gas as fuel and those who cannot shut down or relocate themselves. Till the time industries would be closed, the workers shall be provided with the same daily wages by the employer.


Analysis

Along with the petition, the report of the Varadharajan Committee, Report on Environmental Impact of Mathura Refinery, 1978 was also attached it claims that use of coal in small and large industries and their proximity to the monument have resulted in a considerable level of pollution in Agra region. The committee made recommendations among others like relocation of industries to the south-east of Agra, not establishing new industries, there should be an authority to monitor the level of emissions and the air quality in Agra. The court also relied on the report of the Central Boars for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, which categorized the industries in Agra and Matura and mentioned the amount of Sulphur dioxide emissions from individual industry. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institution (NEERI) submitted a report on the condition of air pollution in TTZ, which was ten times more than the standard condition. The chronology of what happened after it is as follows:


1. 8 January 1993- Court directed the UP. Pollution Control Board to do a survey and list the industries which are sources of pollution; after this, it shall issue a notice to them to undertake anti-pollution measures, and the Board has to submit the report on or before 5 May 1993.

2. 3 May 1993- Board submitted its report with the notice issued to 511 industries in total.

3. 5 May 1993- Court asked the industries to file a reply to the notice on the same day and asked the Board to publish a public notice concerning 511 industries to install anti-pollution mechanism, in two local and two national newspapers. The time to file replies was extended by eight weeks.

4. 5 August 1993- Board stated that the public notice was published. Those who did not reply were closed down by the order dated 27 August 1993 with immediate effect.

5. 16/18 October 1993- NEERI submitted the measures to control emissions like introducing Hydrocracking unit, Chemo-biochemical Recovery unit, Sulphur Recovery unit and the green belt around the refinery.

6. 5 November 1993- Court asked counsel for the respondent the possibility of providing natural gas as fuel to the industry as an alternative to coal.

7. 26 November 1993- Detailed survey needs to be done to proceed further with the case.

8. 19 December 1993- NEERI presented its report and suggested the replacement of coal with compressed natural gas to control pollution within Agra. This transformation would be based on formulations of Gas Authority of India. The HBJ pipeline could be tapped.

9. 11 February 1994- Court asked NEERI to examine the utility of propane, the UP State Industrial Developmental Corporation to locate areas outside the TTZ to shift the industries (3 March 1994) and GAIL to tell the price of propane for supplying it after the relocation.

10. 4 March 1994- The Corporation found 220 Acres of land in an industrial area where 151 plots were available for immediate allotment, 330 acres in Salimpur, Aligarh, 85 acres at Etah.

11. 31 March 1994- The court ordered to issue public/individual notices for suggestions from the industries concerned.

12. 11 April 1994- Court examined NEERI report on redefining the Taj Trapezium. It also suggested measures to mitigate pollution like shifting the industries outside TTZ, Green Belt Development Plan (under process).

13. 29 April 1994- The court ordered the Ministry of Environment and Forest, GOI to appoint an authority to monitor the survey of Taj Trapezium Environmental Area.

14. 5 August 1994- Indian Oil Corporation submitted its report on Mathura Refinery and suggested that natural gas is the most favourable fuel, with other alternatives like Propane, LPG. The fuel shall be transported through a new loop line and a branch line from Bijapur laid by GAIL.

15. 21 October 1994- GAIL indicated the progress of laying pipeline for supplying of NG to industries in TTZ and claimed the project to be completed by December 1996.

16. 3 August 1995- The ministry of Environment and Forest, GOI also suggested relocating factories in TTZ to improve atmospheric quality around Taj.

17. 14 March 1996- The court directed GAIL, IOC UPSIDC to file an affidavit regarding industrial areas outside TTZ, which could be connected with gas supply network. GAIL did the same on 2 Aril 1996.

18. 10 April 1996- The affidavit of GAIL stayed that Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has allocated some area to industries Agra and Firozabad, that the construction of pipelines shall be completed by December 1996.

19. 12 September 1996- The court talked about the safety measures to be taken during the construction and operation of the gas network in TTZ, like protection from corrosion.


With the scrutinization of reports submitted by various institutions, it took three years for the Supreme Court to conclude that the industries in and around the Taj Trapezium Zone are highly responsible for pollution and deterioration of the beauty of the monument. The court directed to shift and relocate the industries out of TTZ and substitute coal with natural gas as a cleaner fuel for the generation of power. The primary reason behind the PIL was not just one party winning and other losing but to preserve what belongs to both of them.


The court relied on judgements to stress on the ‘precautionary principle’[2] which means to anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation that should not be delayed by scientific reasons. The ‘polluter pays principle’[3] meant that due to hazardous activity carried out by any person or industrialist, there is a massive loss suffered by anyone even after taking due care and precaution, such person or industrialist must compensate for the loss. Both principles are pillars of environment law. The principle of ‘absolute liability’ applies in such cases where the damage is on a large scale even if the doer is not at fault and has to pay exemplary damage to restore the environmental degradation.


With this the court also referred to various other independent laws existing in India relevant to the present case like Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974, Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1981, Environment Protection Act, 1986, to enhance the quality of the natural resources which are the needed to lead a save and sustainable life; be it for the present generation of the coming generations. This case in the court is for the betterment of not an only abiotic creature like monuments but also biotic creatures like plants, animals and humans. If the polluted and impure environment can affect the long-standing monument, then it can have a worse effect on living beings.


Even our constitution, the law of laws, mentions it as a fundamental duty to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture[4] and the state must protect every monument or place or object of artistic or historic interest, declared by or under law made by Parliament to be of national importance, from spoilage, disfigurement, destruction, removal, disposal or export, as the case may be.[5]


JUDGEMENT AND CONCLUSION

The court ordered GAIL to ensure gas connections to relocated industries by 31 March 1997 and those which do not wish to switch to cleaner fuels shall stop functioning with effect from 30 April 1997. Taking consideration of the workforce in the industries, the court said they shall be employed after shifting and relocation, no altercation shall be done to the employment contracts, they shall be given full wages till the industry is closed, and they shall be paid a bonus for shifting and settling.


The court, at last, found that the citizens of India have to preserve and conserve the natural environment for the future generations to thrive comfortably. The economic development of any country depends upon many sources but that does not mean to compromise ecology. Development and ecology shall go hand in hand. The concept of sustainable development was also referred to by the court as a midway to growth-development and ecological balance.

[1] M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1986- Taj Trapezium Case- Case Summary, Law Times Journal, available at https://lawtimesjournal.in/m-c-mehta-v-union-of-india-1986-taj-trapezium-case-case-summary/?amp, last seen on 27/07/2020. [2] Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India and Ors., 1996 5 SCR 241. [3] Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India, 1996 AIR 1446. [4]Art. 51(f), the Constitution of India. [5]Art. 49, the Constitution of India.