Indian council for enviro legal action v. union of India and others

Citations: 1996 AIR 1446, 1996 SCC (3) 212

Date of Judgement: 13 February 1996

Bench: Jeevan Reddy, B.P. (J)

Facts of the Case: –

In this case, an environmental protection organization filed a writ petition under the ambit of Article 32 of the Indian constitution for the plight of the people living in the vicinity of chemical industrial plants in India and requesting appropriate remedial measures.

In a village Bichari in the Udaipur district of Rajasthan, an industrial complex was established, and the respondent was producing chemicals like Oleum and Sludge Phosphate without having obtained prior licenses also, they did not install any equipment for the treatment of highly toxic effluent discharged by them. As a result, the water becomes unfit for consumption. It spread diseases, death, disaster in the village and its surrounding areas. The villagers revolted against the production of “H” acid, and ultimately, the industry was closed. The Court requested the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute to do a survey and submit the reports it was found that out of 2440 tones of sludges about, 720 tones were still there intending to conceal it from the eye of the inspection team the respondent dispersed and cover it with the earth. 

Accordingly, the matter was listed before the bench for the final order.    

Issue Raised: –

  1. Whether the writ petition filed under the ambit of Article 32 of the Indian Constitution maintainable against private corporate bodies? 
  2. Whether the respondent is responsible for the damages, and what are the appropriate remedial measures? 

Judgment: – 

1. The Supreme Court held that if the action of the private corporate bodies infringes on a person’s fundamental right, then The Court would not accept the argument that it was not   “state” under the definition of article 12. If The Court finds that the government or authorities concerned have not taken action required for them by the law, then it is the duty of the court to intervene; therein, the writ stands maintainable.

2. The Supreme Court held that the respondent was liable to all the damage cost to the village and charged Rs 37.385 crore payable at a Compoundable interest of 12% p.a. the Court directed the respondent to pay for the litigation charges and further stated that in regards to the determination of remedial measure the central government has the power to decide. The principle on which remedial measures will be determined is “Polluter Pays,” which means “repairing damages is that of offending industries.” 

Personal Opinion: – 

The Comprehensive order passed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India safeguards the interest of the citizen whose fundamental rights are being violated. The concept of The Polluter Pay principle is a very crucial factum in safeguarding the ecological balance in the environment and directing the offender to pay for the violation. 

In my opinion, the above direction shall apply mutatis mutandis to a similar situation that may arise before the Hon’ble Supreme Court.    

(By – Siddharth Addy)

Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra v. State of Uttar Pradesh

Citations: 1985 AIR 652, 1985 SCR (3) 169

Date of Judgement: 12/03/1985

Bench: Bhagwati, P.N. Sen, Amarendra Nath (J) Misra Rangnath

Facts:

This case is popularly known as Dehradun Valley Litigation, situated within the belt of the famous Mussoorie Hills of The Himalayas and has a rich ecosystem. However, in 1950 mining activities began to extract limestone in the region. Dynamite was used for hill blasting. As a result, the beautiful environment of the Valley started deteriorating, lost its vegetation, and many landslides occurred which killed villagers and destroyed their homes, cattle, and agricultural lands.

In 1961, the Uttar Pradesh Ministry of Mines banned quarrying in the region. Nevertheless, in the consequent year, the mining activities began and quarrying leases for 20 years were given with the approval of the State government. Later after 20 years in 1982, the State government denied the renewal of leases considering environmental degradation. 

The Allahabad High Court reversing this decision of government granted permission to quarry in the Valley. In 1983, the petitioner wrote a letter to the Supreme Court concerning the ecological destruction in the Valley. This matter was taken into consideration by the Apex court under Art.32 of The Constitution.

Issues:

  1. Whether the mines were being operated in compliance with the safety standards as laid down in the Mines Act of 1952 and other relevant mining regulations?
  2. Whether there has been a violation of the Forest Conservation Act due to the extraction activities?
  3. Whether the economic gains would prevail over ecological preservation?
  4. Whether the renewal of leases can be granted in accordance with the Forest Conservation Act, 1980?

Judgement:

Firstly, in 1985 the Court-appointed The Bhargava committee to check if the mining activities in the Valley were in compliance with the Mines Act, 1952 and after the recommendation of the committee the Court prohibited blasting operations. The court also denied leases to the most dangerous mines falling within Mussoorie city and ceased their operations. 

Further, based on the report of the committee it ordered to terminate the extraction operations in the Valley as it violated the Forest Conservation Act. The court even went beyond the requirements of the Act to conserve forest and issued orders to ensure that the valley is reforested.

Secondly, in 1987 the Court-appointed Bandyopadhyay committee to examine the report, based on ecology consideration, of the previous committee and also the conditions of people affected by the quarrying. Following the recommendations of the committee, the Court reaffirmed the termination of mining operations but said it can be granted only to secure a foreign exchange position.

This issue of renewal of leases was earlier resolved by the Supreme Court in the case of Ambika Quarry Works v. State of Gujarat where The Court held that the state government may renew pre-existing mining leases only with the review and approval of the centre, as required under the Forest Conservation Act.

The court further instructed the government to establish a Monitoring Committee constituting the Central, State, and local officials and two “public-spirited” citizens to look over the quarrying operations, reforestation, and all other aspects to restore normalcy in the Valley. It was also instructed the Government to employ the workers who lost jobs due to the closure of mining operations in the eco-task force aimed at reforestation of the area.

Personal Comment:

The Supreme Court with its landmark ruling, in this case, set a historical precedent asserting that environmental protection prevails over the economic gains. It was successful in achieving a striking balance between the economy and ecology. Due to this judgement, the doctrine of sustainable development has come up. i.e., there must be balance between development and ecology. Environmental degradation is not justified on the stake of national interest. 

It is protected under Art.21 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees the right to the wholesome environment as a fundamental right. The judgement was fair as it considered the plight of all the aggrieved parties and provided relief accordingly. The ruling also affirmed the Jurisdiction, strength, and extent of administrative offices.

(By – M. Soujanya)

Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Shri Vardhichand and Ors

Citation – 1980 AIR 1622

Article 47 of the Indian Constitution imposes a duty upon the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and improve public health. Supreme Court, in this case, held that the State must realize that Article 47 is a paramount principle of governance and steps are taken for the improvement of public health as amongst its primary duties. 

 Facts of this Case:

According to Section 123 of The M.P. Municipalities Act 1961, the Municipality had the duty to clean public areas, dispose of the wastes and prevent public nuisances. 

Residents of Ratlam (a city in Madhya Pradesh ) moved an application under S.133 of Cr.P.C. before the Sub-Divisional Magistrate against the Municipality stating that the authorities have failed to meet the basic obligation of providing the sanitary facilities on the roads, public conveniences for slum dwellers using the road and prevention of the discharge from the nearby Alcohol Plant of malodorous fluids into the public street. 

Due to insanitation and half-constructed drain, water is accumulated in the pits which causes a bulk of mosquitoes to breed. The contaminated water entering nearby houses creates a nuisance as well as a health threat for the residents of that locality.

The Sub-Divisional Magistrate directed the Municipality to remove the nuisance within six months. High Court also approved the order of the SDM. 

The Municipality went for an appeal before the Supreme Court and contended that it did not have sufficient funds to carry out the work.

Issue Raised

Whether a court can compel a statutory body to perform its statutory obligation to provide sanitation facilities to the community?

Judgment 

While delivering the judgment, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer dismissed the argument of the Ratlam Municipality that it could not perform the statutory duties due to financial inability. The Supreme Court stated, “[a] responsible municipal council constituted for the precise purpose of preserving public health and providing better finances cannot run away from its principal duty by pleading financial inability. Decency and dignity are non-negotiable facets of human rights and are the first charge on local self-governing bodies.” 

The Supreme court directed the Municipality to follow the order given by the Sub Divisional Magistrate immediately. The court also added that non-compliance of orders would lead to a charge of criminal contempt. 

Analysis

The judgment given by Apex Court is a landmark judgment in environmental protection. This became an eye-opener for the public-spirited individuals and encouraged them to fight for their basic needs of sanitation. The judgment acts as a precedent where the action lies against the Municipality to fulfill its Public health obligations.

(By – Anupama)