Author: Nandinee Singh, Amity Law School, Noida.
Court: Supreme Court of India
Full case name: M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.
Decided: 20 December 1986
Citation(s): 1987 SCR (1) 819; AIR 1987 965
Appellant: M.C. Mehta
Respondent: UOI and others
P.N. Bhagwati (Chief Justice), G.L. Misra Rangnath Oza, M.M. Dutt, K.N. Singh
The decision by: P.N. Bhagwati
Having a clean and safe environment is every individual’s right. The environmental standards have been degrading for the past many years. For the development of the country urbanization and industrialization is important but all these developments have hindered the environmental health of the country. Before the seventies, there were no proper environment protection laws or acts. A lot of landmark judgments are given by the Indian courts after many industrial disasters which degraded the environment. Statutory laws have been made to protect the environment. The Environment Protection Act, 1986 came into force after the hazardous and disastrous Bhopal gas leak incident.
On 4-12-1985, from a sulphuric acid plant, there was an oleum gas leakage. This leakage happened in the Shriram foods and fertilizers industries which is a subsidiary of Delhi cloth Mills Ltd. As the plant was located in a very populated area of Delhi, the leakage caused one death and several injuries. There was again minor leakage from the plant on 6-12-1985. There was a complaint filed against the industry. The management was asked by the District Magistrate, Delhi to close down the unit and to show the cause behind the leakage to avoid the order.
After this disastrous incident and advocate, M.C. Mehta filed a PIL petition in the SC. article 32 of the Constitution was used to file the PIL, in this petition, M.C. Mehta requested the court to direct the government to take necessary steps to avoid such leakages from the industries which are engaged in hazardous and dangerous manufacturing processes. Petitioner asked the court to advise the government to shift or relocate these kinds of plants at the outskirts of the city so that no the tragedy like Bhopal gas case or this oleum gas leakage happens.
Preliminary objection by the defendant:
The defendant filed just a single objection. He mentioned that the court should not continue to choose these sacred issues because the petitioner did not file the writ with a case for paying the compensations initially and all these issues should not be included in the writ now. The court dismissed this objection and said that even if the petitioner did not apply for the payment of compensation and is now appealing to add the issue, this doe does not mean that the application can be thrown away. The court said that they cannot apply the technical approach in such cases because the appeal for the application of compensation here is for the enforcement of Article 21 of the constitution which says that every person has a right to live.
- Whether the hazardous industries should be allowed to work in densely populated areas?
- Whether any regulatory mechanism should be involved, if these industries are allowed to operate in such areas?
- How should the amount of compensation and liability be determined?
- Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty
This article says that no person shall be deprived of his right to live his life.
Article 32: Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part
“(1) The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.
(2) The Supreme Court shall have the power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs like habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part
(3) Without prejudice to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court by clause ( 1 ) and ( 2 ), Parliament may by law empower any other court to exercise within the local limits of its jurisdiction all or any of the powers exercisable by the Supreme Court under clause ( 2 )
(4) The right guaranteed by this article shall not be suspended except as otherwise provided for by this Constitution.”
In the judgment, Chief Justice Bhagwati mentioned that yes, all these chemical industries are dangerous, but they can’t be removed from the country as they improve the quality of life. Even if these industries are hazardous but they must be set up because they provide many supplies like in this case the plant supplies chlorine to Delhi water supply undertaking for the maintenance of clean drinking water. These industries are important for the economic growth of the country.
The following principles were laid down by the court:
- Rs 20 lakhs were required to be deposited by the Shriram industry for the compensations. A bank guarantee of Rs. 15 lakhs were also to be furnished by the management which will be uncashed if any gas leakage happens in the next 3 years.
- Rs 30,000 must be deposited by the company for the travel expenses of the expert committee members.
- There should be a green belt of 1 to 1.5 km around these industries.
- M.C. Mehta was appreciated by the court for filing such a petition and the industry was asked to pay Rs 10,000 towards the cost.
- The central government was directed by the court to form an environment court.
It was held by the Supreme court that a total ban on these industries will put a stop to the development of the country and closing them will also cause unemployment of 4000 workers. Because of all these reasons, the court suggested the government direct some conditions for the safety of people and the environment.
Conditions made by the government:
- An inspector must be appointed by the Central Pollution Control Board.
- A committee must be made for the safety of the workers.
- The effects of chlorine must be publicized by the industry.
- Loudspeakers must be installed so that the surrounding people can be informed about any leakage and the workers must be trained properly.
- Masks and belts must be used by the workers for their safety.
- An undertaking must be furnished by the workers of Shriram that if any leakage happens again then they are responsible for the compensations to the people injured or suffered.
In this case, for the first time, the company was held liable for its actions.
In the case, the appellant made an important point regarding the safety of the environment for the hazardous accidents that happen because of the chemical industries. He requested the relocation of these industries and was appreciated by the court. The company was held liable for the oleum leakage incident and was asked to pay the compensations. The SC was clear with its decision that these hazardous industries are required for the development of the country but there must be some ground rules so that the people and the environment are also safe. All the above-mentioned conditions were drafted to ensure that there is no more hazardous situation like the oleum gas leakage. The decision was made so that the economic growth of the nation is not hindered. This incident acted as a guiding force for the implementation of environmental laws. A precedent was set by this case for all the industries to act with strict safety measures and to also protect the environment. This case is a landmark judgment as for the first time in Indian history a accompany is held liable for the damages. The supreme court in this case defended the environment as well as the public rights because it kept not only the legal aspects but also the social, economic factors in its mind.
 Environment Protection Act, 1986
 The Constitution Of India 1949, A 32