Taj Trapezium Case – M. C. Mehta v. Union of India, 1986

Introduction

In the present times, people have become a lot more environmental conscious than they were before. Being ‘environmental conscious’ has become the new trend and this mentality has taken the media by storm. Demonstration of such environmental sensibility may prove to be extremely beneficial for nature. Being environmental conscious is not a new concept, in fact it’s been present since the ancient times. The edicts issued during Ashoka, the Mauryan Emperor’s period provided for a protected status to some wildlife species.

Furthermore, it can be said that Jainism and Buddhism may have also played a huge role in establishing and encouraging wildlife conservation by preaching the concept of Ahimsa i.e., non – violence. Atharva Veda and Prithvi Sukta also advocated to avoid environmental trespass and ensure that the Earth is never oppressed. In spite of that, environmental degradation found its way. A large part of environmental degradation is because of the growing trades and business.

Urban development has also given rise to deforestation on a large scale. The continued pursuance of hunting as a ‘hobby’ has made the situation worse for wildlife conservation all around the world. In order to tackle these modern-day environmental issues, various environmental laws were enacted in the past few decades.

Environmental Law Principles applied in Taj Trapezium Case

As discussed before, the increasing destruction of the environment urged several international bodies, organizations, conferences to develop concepts like ‘sustainable development’, ‘polluter pays principle’, ‘precautionary principle’, ‘public trust doctrine’, etc. Out of the many developed principles, three principles were applied and discussed in the Taj Trapezium Case. They are as follows:

Sustainable development

Sustainable development was first used at Cocoyox Declaration in 1972 and received proper support at the Stockholm Conference. The concept of Sustainable development does not deter development, instead it promotes development as long as environmental factors and conditions are not sidelined. It ensures a harmonious balance between development and protection of the environment. Recently, quite a few global clothing brands have been promoting sustainable clothing, this may be viewed as a great initiative which not only promotes the protection of environment but may also help in actually doing so.

Precautionary Principle

The Precautionary Principle plays a huge role with respect to the burden of proof. According to this principle, where the risk of harming the environment is perceived, the burden of proof would lie upon the person who is undertaking to take a risk that would lead to environmental damage of some kind. The person wanting to take up a project that may lead to environmental damage must anticipate the environmental damage and take precautionary measures. This principle was not only applied in the Taj Trapezium Case[i], but also in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v Union of India.[ii] By adhering to the Precautionary Principle, one can anticipate the environmental harm a prospective project may cause. In A.P. Pollution Control Board v. Prof. M. V. Nayadu[iii], the Apex Court observed that “the principles of precaution involves anticipation of environmental harm and taking measures to avoid it – or to choose the least environmentally harmful activity.”

Polluter Pays principle

The Polluter Pays principle is applied after the environmental degradation has taken place. This principle mandates the person who has caused such an adverse environmental damage to pay for their actions. The polluter not only compensates the victims but also pays for the restoration of the environment. Therefore, even where the harm cannot be reversed, through the application of this principle, the polluter is at least made to pay the cost of the damage done by him. This principle creates absolute liability on the polluter.

Taj Trapezium Case – M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 734

Background of the Case

M.C Mehta could be referred to as the pioneer of public interest litigation pertaining to the environment in India. While observing the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, M. C. Mehta noticed that the marble was turning yellow due to pollutants that were being emitted from surrounding industries. The 10400 sq. km area around the monument is known as the Taj Trapezium Zone (hereinafter referred to as “TTZ”) covering five districts in the Agra region. The TTZ comprises roughly 40 protected monuments, three of which being World Heritage Sites like the Agra Fort, Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri.

Facts of Taj Trapezium Case

In the view of the petitioner, the damage to Taj was being caused by chemical industries, foundaries and the refinery at Mathura. The deteriorating condition of the Taj Mahal due to the pollutants, instigated the petitioner to file a petition before the Apex Court. The petitioner highlighted that sulphur dioxide emitted by the Mathura Refinery and the adjoining industries resulted in Acid Rain that had a corroding effect on the white marble of the monument. The sulphur dioxide emitted by the Mathura Refinery adjoining industries when combined with Oxygen-with the aid of moisture in the atmosphere formed sulphuric acid called “Acid rain”.

Therefore, the primary reason behind the deterioration of this monument’s beauty were the various polluting agents emitted by these industries. The acid rain had a detrimental effect upon the marbles on the monument. The damage was so visible that the marble had started turning yellow. There were also certain brown and black spots developing on it. This degradation of one of the most beautiful monuments of the world was a serious matter of concern. This was a national concern as Taj Mahal was a part of the seven wonders of the world.

Therefore, the petitioner rightly raised his concerns and asked the court to take all the necessary measures and give directions that would help prevent further degradation. It is pertinent to note that the writ petition was also attached with the report of an Expert Committee.  It was the “Report on Environmental Impact of Mathura Refinery” which was published by the Indian Government in 1978. The report showed various sources of pollution in the TTZ. Further, a report titled “Inventory and Assessment of Pollution Emission in and Around Agra-Mathura Region” had been published by the Central Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, New Delhi. A remarkable attempt to classify the industries in Agra and its outskirts into 7 different categories was made. It provided statistics on the pollution levels. The pollution levels were exceedingly high. It also stated that Sulphur dioxide emissions can be cut down by 50% if two thermal power stations were closed down and if coal could be replaced by diesel in the railway yards.

Order of Taj Trapezium Case

The court gave a direction to the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (hereinafter referred to as “the Board”) to conduct a survey of the concerned area. Accordingly, they were supposed to make a compilation of all the industries and foundries which were contributing to the rise in pollution in the concerned area. The Board was then asked to issue notices to such industries and were asked to show how they were implementing anti-pollution measures. After identifying over five hundred industries, the notices were issued and were asked to file replies by the set date (5th May, 1993).

Directions were also given to the Board to issue a public notice to the industries by publishing the same in 2 local newspapers and 2 national newspapers instructing them to install anti pollution treatment plants.

Although the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (hereinafter referred to as “NEERI”) submitted its report on the measures of controlling the emission of Sulphur dioxide at Mathura Refinery, the Mathura matter was dealt separately by the Apex Court.  The report recommended inclusion of an improved Sulphur Recovery Unit, usage of natural gas, installation of hydrocracking unit and providing for a green belt around the refinery.

The court also took efforts in helping the industries relocate by asking Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation to identify and locate sufficient areas outside the TTZ. The Supreme Court analysed and considered several reports that were presented and submitted to the Apex Court by various bodies. The court also took the Vardharanjan Committee’s report into consideration and gave necessary directions to the Ministry of Environment & Forests, the State of Uttar Pradesh and the Government of India to make a relocation scheme that would aid the industries in being shifted in a phased manner. It is noteworthy that the Supreme Court did not fail to recognize certain principles pertaining to environmental law – The Polluter Pays Principle, The Precautionary Principle and enumerated upon the concept of Sustainable Development.  The aforementioned principles pertaining to environmental law have been discussed in the first half of the article. Special emphasis was also laid upon the various articles of the Constitution of India and Statutes like the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (the Water Act), the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (the Air Act) and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

Judgement

Around two hundred and ninety-two industries were to shift to natural gas, the ones who failed to comply were asked to relocate outside the TTZ. The industries that neither shifted to natural gas nor relocated elsewhere, had to shut down if they wanted to continue using coal or coke in that area. The rights and benefits that must be awarded to the workmen belonging to the two hundred and ninety industries were recognized. They could continue their employment in the relocated industries. The relocation period was considered as employment with full payment of wages and continuation in their service. A shifting bonus was also to be given.

By applying the principle of sustainable development, the court realised the necessity of drawing a balance between environmental protection and economic development. Furthermore, the court recognized two more important principles known as the Polluter Pays Principle and the Precautionary Principle. In order to repair and prevent further damage, the court advocated that the concept of ‘Sustainable Development’ must be practiced and that the polluter should be held liable to compensate the suffering party/ies and must additionally pay the cost of reversing the damaged ecology. The judgement also relied tremendously upon the various reports that came to light. As the court was extremely persistent upon the prevention of further degradation and destruction, it ordered the neighbouring industries to either shift to natural gas or shut down the operations of such industries and relocate outside the area of TTZ.

The Supreme Court did not fail placing reliance upon Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty and also upon directive principles of state policy and fundamental duties as provided in the Indian Constitution. While talking about the precautionary principle, the court observed that the onus of proof lied on the industry to show how the operation of such industries with coke or coal would not prove to be environmentally detrimental. Nonetheless, it was shown that the emissions generated from the industries because of the use of coke or coal in TTZ were the primary polluters.

Drawbacks of Taj Trapezium Case Judgement

The order only addressed two hundred and ninety-two industries out of the five hundred and ten industries. The other industries that contributed to the damage should have been called upon to take measures as well. The direction only asked the industries who were refusing to switch to the use of natural gas to relocate. This is a little faulty, as all the industries should have been asked to relocate as it would have set a precedent for all other future cases and would have made a stronger statement which would have dissuaded polluting industries in the future as well. In order to eliminate damage due to pollution, it is beyond necessary to take strict action. Although the judgement lays emphasis on coal and coke pollutants, significant emphasis was not laid upon pollution due to brick kilns, bangle and glass factories, pollution caused due to excessive traffic on the roads of Agra, chemical industries, etc. Furthermore, special guidelines or directions should have been laid down for determination of pollution standards of the newly relocated industries.

Conclusion

This landmark judgement of Taj Trapezium Case helped recognize the issue of environmental damage around the Taj Mahal. Not only did it help identify a few causes for the depredation of the marbling of the monument, but also implicitly recognised other environmental problems related to it. The Apex Court took a remarkable initiative by giving due consideration to various principles and concepts of environmental law.

References

  1. https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2011/01/taj-mahal-environment-pollution/
  2. https://lawtimesjournal.in/m-c-mehta-v-union-of-india-1986-taj-trapezium-case-case-summary/
  3. https://lawsisto.com/legalnewsread/Nzg3NQ==/Taj-Trapezium-Case
  4. Environmental Law by Professor H.D. Pithawala.

[i] AIR 1997 SC 734

[ii] 1996 5 SCR 241

[iii] AIR 1999 SC 912

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Aayushi Mittra

Aayushi Mittra is a Fourth Year Law Student pursuing 5 Years BLS LLB at SVKM's Pravin Gandhi College of Law. Securing AIR 18 in CS Foundation exams, she wishes to not restrict herself to the ambit of company law but also explore various other fields of law like IPR, Cyber Law, Real Estate, Tech Law and Sports Law. Apart from academics, she immensely enjoys participating in moots, MUNs and article writing competitions.