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M.C.MEHETA v. Union Of India (Taj Case)

Parties Involved

PetitionersM.C.MEHETA
RespondentUnion Of India (Taj Case)
Citation: 1987 AIR 1086, 1987 SCR (1) 819

Facts of the case

A public interest litigation was filed before the supreme court to protect Taj Mahal from further deterioration and damage which was not only caused by natural causes of decay but also by changing socio-economic conditions which aggravate the situation. The petitioner further stated that the foundries, hazardous factories and the refinery at Mathura are regarded as the major sources of pollution in Agra as reported in Central Pollution Control Board Report. The SO2 released by the Mathura Refinery and other factories when mixed with oxygen in the atmosphere with the aid of moisture also form sulphuric acid which is also known as Acid Rain which has a corrosive effect on the shining white marble. The primary factor for polluting air flow around Taj Mahal are industrial waste, vehicle traffic and generator sets. The petitioner estimated that the white marble turned into yellow in colour and the deterioration inside is more evident.

Issues

Whether the damage to the Taj Mahal is caused due to the emission of harmful gases like Sulphur oxide (SO2) from chemical industries?

Provisions

  • Major causes of damage to the Taj Mahal are foundries, chemical industries, and the refinery. Gases such as SO2 produced by these factories mix with oxygen with the assistance of moisture resulting in acid rain which has a corroding effect on the Taj Mahal marble.
  • There is visible damage to marble used in Taj Mahal. This monument is surrounded by a yellow pallor. In some places gross brown and black streaks magnify the yellow dots.
  • Taj Mahal is an internationally recognised monument. Yet it is going through depletion due to the pollution of air. The applicant has therefore received direction from the court to take appropriate action against the polluters concerned.

Principles applied

  • Sustainable development- The main aim of this petition is to prevent atmospheric pollution while encouraging industrialisation. Though development of industries are necessary for growing the economy of the country but environment and ecosystem have to be protected at the same instance.
  • Precautionary principle- The pollution which is regarded as a result of development must support the carrying capacity of our ecosystem. Thus it is better to err on the caution side instead of waiting for the damage or harm to take place. The state must adopt necessary steps for the prevention of harm upon environment.
  • Polluter pay principle- “ Once the activity carried on is hazardous or inherently dangerous, the person carrying on such activity is liable to make good the loss caused to any other person irrespective of the fact whether he took reasonable care or not”. Similarly, the industries causing pollution are absolutely liable to compensate the harm caused by them to the local people in the affected area, to the soil, and to the underground water and so they are bound to take all necessary steps to remove sludge and other pollutants present in the affected area. Thus the court explained that the absolute liability for causing damage to the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution but also the cost of restoring environmental degradation.
  • Articles referred from the constitution- Article 21, 48, 48-A of the constitution

Judgement

The court held that as an industrial fuel , 292 companies would turn over to natural gas. Industries that are unable to obtain gas connection shall stop operating by using coke or coal in the Taj Trapezium Zone and can relocate themselves.

The Supreme Court also offered the employees working in those 292 industries some benefits and privileges. Workers in the new place where the industry is moved shall have continuity of employment. The time between the collapse of industry in Agra and its restart at the place of relocation shall be considered as active jobs and with the continuity of service, the employees needs to be paid their full salary. Workers who decide to transfer will earn the salary of one year as a shifting incentive and employees who do not wish to move shall be considered to have retrenched.

The court agreed to negotiate separately with industries other than those 292 industries and ordered the board to send notices to the remaining TTZ industries demanding  gas connection or relocation.

The court also ordered that all the brick kilns must stop their operation at Taj Trapezium Zone. The bench also directed that the fly ash produced during the process of thermal plant functioning could be supplied to brick kilns for brick building. This is a useful step in reducing fly ash emissions.

Analysis

It is a landmark judgement for environmental law jurisprudence in India. The court has based its decision on the precautionary principle and polluters pay principle, thus making it an essential part of our country’s environmental jurisprudence. The Supreme Court has taken on a constructive position and made expansive use of the case in the public interest litigation to protect basic environmental interests.  The judicial activism exercised in this case by the Supreme Court for environmental protection shows the growing importance of the environmental litigation in India.

Written By Pritha Sarkar