Here is a list of 20 Landmark Cases relating to Environmental Laws in India delivered by the Supreme Court and other High Courts which have further facilitated in furthering of the cause of creating 'environmental consciousness'. Introduction The idea of 'environmental consciousness' began when man realised that the environment does not belong to man but he belongs to… Read More »

Here is a list of 20 Landmark Cases relating to Environmental Laws in India delivered by the Supreme Court and other High Courts which have further facilitated in furthering of the cause of creating 'environmental consciousness'. Introduction The idea of 'environmental consciousness' began when man realised that the environment does not belong to man but he belongs to the environment. We all are nothing but slaves to nature and it is our duty to protect the environment from any damages...

Here is a list of 20 Landmark Cases relating to Environmental Laws in India delivered by the Supreme Court and other High Courts which have further facilitated in furthering of the cause of creating 'environmental consciousness'.

Introduction

The idea of 'environmental consciousness' began when man realised that the environment does not belong to man but he belongs to the environment. We all are nothing but slaves to nature and it is our duty to protect the environment from any damages to leave a sustainable environment for the future generation.

The courts in recent years have emerged as the protector of the environment preventing it from the onslaught of development which is in disharmony with the goal of 'sustainable development'. Here is a list of 20 landmark Judgements delivered by the Supreme Court and other High Courts which have further facilitated in furthering of the cause of creating 'environmental consciousness'.

20 Landmark Cases relating to Environmental Laws in India

  1. Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715
  2. Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, AIR 2000 SC 3751
  3. Church of God(Full Gospel) in India v. K.K.R. Majestic Colony Welfare Association, (2000) 7 SCC 282
  4. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 734
  5. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 2002 SC 1696
  6. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR (1987) SC 1086
  7. M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, (2000) 6 SCC 213
  8. Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Vardhichand, AIR (1980) SC 1622
  9. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR (1985) SC 652
  10. Pradeep Kishen v. Union of India, (1996) 8 SCC 599
  11. Jagannath v. Union of India, 1997 2 SCC 87
  12. Susetha v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR (2006) SC 2893
  13. Murli S. Deora v. Union of India AIR 2002 SC 40
  14. Indian Council for Enviro- Legal Action v. Union of India, (20011) 12 SCC 768
  15. Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board v. C. Kenchappa (AIR 2006 SC 2038)
  16. Orissa State (Prevention & Control) of Pollution Board v. M/s Orient Paper Mills, AIR (2003) SC 1966
  17. State of M.P. v. Kedia Leather Ltd, (2003) 7 SCC 389
  18. Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180
  19. Ram Baj Singh v. Babulal, AIR 1982 All. 285
  20. Intellectual Forum, Tirupathi v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 2006 SC 1350

20 Landmark Cases relating to Environmental Laws in India (Explained)

  1. Vellore Citizen's Welfare Forum v. Union of India, AIR 1996 SC 2715

  2. In this case, the Supreme court applied the precautionary principle directly to the facts. This case is also known as the Tamil Nadu Tanneries Case where a petition was filed by the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum seeking a direction to the tanneries and other industries which caused pollution by the enormous discharge of untreated effluent in the State of Tamil Nadu.

    Justice Kuldeep Sigh rejecting the idea that development and ecology were opposed to each other stated that, the only answer to the conflict between environment and development was the concept of 'Sustainable Development' accepted and adopted in the Stockholm Declaration 1972. The Court further held that, the 'Precautionary Principle' and the 'polluter pays principle' are a part of the constitutional and statutory provisions as is clear from Article 47, 48A, 51A(g) of the Constitution of India and other statutes for the protection of the Environment.

    The Central Government was directed to establish an authority under Section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 which shall implement the 'Precautionary and the Polluter Pays Principle'. The Supreme Court held that the tanneries were polluting the environment and directed the tanneries to set up common effluent treatment plants.

  3. Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, AIR 2000 SC 3751

  4. A public interest litigation was initiated against the Sardar Sarovar Project which consisted of the construction of a large dam on the Narmada river. The petition alleged that the project would lead to ecological destruction. In this case, the Supreme Court balanced the developmental imperatives and introduced a new dimension in 'precautionary principle' by way of interpretation.

    The Court stated that sustainable development means what type or extent of development can take place which can be sustained by nature or ecology with or without mitigation. It was held that the construction of a dam is neither a nuclear establishment nor a polluting industry. Even though the construction of dams results in a change of environment but will not be an ecological disaster as contended. Therefore, the construction of a dam was allowed.

  5. Church of God (Full Gospel) in India v. K.K.R. Majestic Colony Welfare Association, (2000) 7 SCC 282

  6. The Supreme Court, in this case, examined the issue of 'noise pollution' owing on the ground of religion and whether beating of drums or reciting of prayers by use of microphones and loudspeakers should be permitted to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the area should be permitted.

    It was held that no religion prescribes that prayers should be performed by disturbing the peace of others and in the name of religion activities that disturb old or infirm persons, students or children and other persons carrying on other activities cannot be permitted. The Supreme Court referring to Article 19(1)(a) and the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 200 dismissed the appeal of the appellant and observed that the right to religion under Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution is subject to public order, morality and health.

  7. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 1997 SC 734

  8. This case is also known as the 'Taj Trapezium Case'. The chemical and hazardous industries and refineries at Mathura along with brick-klin units and vehicular traffic were polluting the air around the Taj Mahal and as a result, the white marble of the monument was getting blackened in patches. The emissions generated by the coke/coal consuming industries had a damaging effect on the Taj and the people living around the area.

    It was held by the Apex Court, that the Taj Mahal is a part of national and international cultural heritage and must be preserved and protected from damages due to environmental pollution. The court observed that even though the development of the industry is necessary but at the same time environment and ecosystem must be protected and apply the precautionary principle.

  9. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR 2002 SC 1696

  10. This case is also known as 'CNG Vehicles Case'. A writ petition was filed under Article 21 of the Constitution Of India regarding the Air Pollution in Delhi where, smoke and highly toxic other corrosive gases due to industries and vehicles and prayed to the Court to issue appropriate directions to the owners of the vehicles emitting noxious carbon monoxides, oxides of nitrogen, lead and other smoke.

    The Supreme Court held that Article 39(c), 47 and 48A collectively cast a duty on the State to secure the health of the people and protect and improve the environment. The Court highlighted that one of the principles underlying environmental law is that of sustainable development i.e ecologically sustainable development. And, the two essential features of sustainable development are the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. The phasing out of non-CNG buses was recommended.

  11. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, AIR (1987) SC 1086

  12. This case is popularly known as 'Shriram Food and Fertilizer Case'. The Supreme Court, in this case, held that exemplary damages are also recoverable when harm results from hazardous or inherently dangerous nature of activity in which the defendant, in this case, was engaged. In such cases, compensation is awarded keeping into account the magnitude of the act and the capacity of the wrongdoer to pay. The larger and more prosperous the enterprise, the greater must be the amount of compensation payable by it.

  13. M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, (2000) 6 SCC 213

  14. The Supreme Court, in this case, observed that environmental pollution amounts to a civil wrong and by its nature, it is a tort committed against the whole community. The Court observed that "Pollution is a civil wrong. By its very nature, it is a tort committed against the community as a whole.

    A person, therefore, who is guilty of causing pollution has to pay damages (compensation) for the restoration of the environment and ecology. He has also to pay damages to those who have suffered loss on account of the act of the offender. In addition to damages, the person guilty of causing pollution can also be held liable to pay exemplary damages, so that it may act as a deterrent for others not to cause pollution in any manner."

    Justice Shagir Ahmed observed that Article 48A and 51A(g) have to be considered in the light of Article 21 of the Constitution and any disturbance of the basic environmental elements, namely, air, water and soil, which are necessary for 'life' would be hazardous to 'life' within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution.

  15. Municipal Council, Ratlam v. Vardhichand, AIR (1980) SC 1622

  16. In the facts of the case where a ward of Ratlam Municipality was being used by poor inhabitants as latrine resulting in accumulation of filth making the area inhabitable for the residents and the misery was enhanced by the alcohol plant releasing malodorous fluids into the public streets. The Magistrate ordered for the removal of the nuisance to the Municipal Corporation and it appealed to High Court and High Court also upheld the order of the Magistrate then appeal was made to Supreme Court by the Corporation.

    The Supreme Court highlighting the responsibility of the Magistrate under Section 133 Cr.P.C. to order the removal of nuisance within a time to be fixed in the order observed that, Municipal Corporation is bound to comply by the order under Section 133 Cr.P.C as failure to comply with the same attracts punishment under Section 188 of IPC.

    The Court disallowed the appeal ordered the Ratlam Municipality to provide for drainage system within one year and stop affluents from the alcohol plant into the streets and ensure a pollution-free environment. This decision of the Supreme Court is a landmark in the history of judicial activism as it upholds the social justice component of the rule of law by fixing liability on statutory authorities and mandates them to discharge their legal obligations towards the public at large.

  17. Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, Dehradun v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR (1985) SC 652

  18. This case is also known as the 'Dehradun Mussoorie Hills Quarrying Case'. In this case, the NGO and a group of citizens approached the Apex Court against progressive mining which denuded the Mussoorie Hills and accelerated soil erosion resulting in landslides and blockage of underground water channels.

    The Court ordered the registry to treat the letter as a writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution (epistolary jurisdiction) which in itself presupposes the infringement of fundamental rights. The Court directed all the mines in the Dehradun Valley remain closed, except for three operations. The Court concluded that continued mining in the valley violated the Forest (Conservation) Act and ordered it to reforest the valley.

  19. Pradeep Kishen v. Union of India, (1996) 8 SCC 599

  20. The Madhya Pradesh Government issued an order permitting the collection of tendu leaves from sanctuaries and national parks by villagers/tribals living around the boundaries with an object of maintenance of their traditional rights including the right to livelihood. This order was challenged by way of public interest litigation for the protection of ecology, environment and wildlife in the sanctuaries and national parks.

    The Supreme Court in the circumstances of this case refused to quash the order. However, it also observed that the entry of villagers in these sanctuaries is one of the reasons promoting the shrinkage of forest cover and highlighted that urgent steps must be undertaken to prevent the same. Therefore, in this case, on one hand, the Supreme Court protected the right to livelihood of the tribals and on the other hand, also showed its concern for the protection of ecology.

  21. Jagannath v. Union of India, 1997 2 SCC 87

  22. The Supreme Court, in this case, held that sea beaches and sea coasts are gifts of nature and any activity polluting the same cannot be permitted. The intensified Shrimp (prawn) farming culture industry by modern methods in coastal areas was causing degradation of mangrove ecosystem, depletion of the plantation, discharge of highly polluting effluents and pollution of potable as well as groundwater. Therefore, it was held that the said activities of the industries are violative of constitutional provisions and various other environmental legislation.

    The Supreme Court keeping the scope and content of Article 19(1)(g) in mind held that any shrimp industry is permitted to be installed in the ecologically fragile coastal area it must pass through a strict environmental test. It was suggested by the Apex Court that, there must be an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before permission is granted to install commercial shrimp farms. It must take into consideration the inter-generational equity and compensation for those who are affected and prejudiced.

  23. Susetha v. State of Tamil Nadu, AIR (2006) SC 2893

  24. In the facts of this case, the panchayat of a village in Tamil Nadu took the decision of constructing a shopping complex where there was a water tank. This was challenged by the State.

    The Supreme Court in this case while dismissing the appeal, highlighted the concept of sustainable development and harmonisation of development without damaging the environment and where developments can be sustained over generations. The Court held that the principle of sustainable development is fundamental to Indian law and allowed the construction.

  25. Murli S. Deora v. Union of India AIR 2002 SC 40

  26. In this case, it was held that smoking in public places is prohibited. The Supreme Court observed that the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India provides that, no one shall be deprived of his life without due process of law, then why a non-smoker should be afflicted by various diseases including lung cancer or heart diseases only because he is required to go to public places.

  27. Indian Council for Enviro- Legal Action v. Union of India, (20011) 12 SCC 768

  28. This case relates to the action not being taken in the popularly known Bichhri Village case (AIR 1996 SC 1146) where, the Court had directed the Union Government to take action but, for 15 years the polluters pursued legal tactics to delay enforcement of 1996 judgement and therefore, a writ petition was filed before the Supreme Court against the respondents.

    In this case, the Court observed that the principles of equity, justice and good conscience proclaim that the legal process is not abused by the litigants in any manner. The Court should never permit a litigant to perpetuate illegality by abusing the legal process. The Court also observed that the Apex Court judgements have great sanctity and unless there are extremely compelling circumstances the judgement of the Court should not be disturbed particularly in cases where review and curative petitions have been dismissed.

  29. Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board v. C. Kenchappa (AIR 2006 SC 2038)

    In the facts of this case, Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) acquired lands of different villages. It was contended in the petition that the area acquired was cattle grazing land causing great hardship to the villagers and is violative of their Article 14 and 21.

    The Supreme Court held that, before the acquisition of the lands for development, the consequences and adverse impact of development on environment must be properly comprehended to ensure that lands acquired for developments do not gravely impair the ecology and environment. The court allowing the appeal directed the appellant to obtain environmental clearance from Karnataka State Pollution Control Board before the allotment of land for development or industrial purpose.

  30. Orissa State (Prevention & Control) of Pollution Board v. M/s Orient Paper Mills, AIR (2003) SC 1966

    In this case where, the respondent Orient Paper Mills, in manufacturing of paper and paper board used Caustic Soda and Chlorine which falls within Air Pollution Control Area. The consent was obtained from the Board but, the respondent failed to comply with the conditions.

    The issue was, can State Government declare an area as 'Air Pollution Control Area' in any manner prescribed if the prescribed manner is absent. It was held by the Supreme Court that, where a statute powers an authority to do certain acts or exercise power in respect of certain matters, subject to the rules, the exercise of power conferred by the statutes does not depend on the existence of rules is not a condition precedent to the exercise of power expressly and unconditionally conferred by the statute.

  31. State of M.P. v. Kedia Leather Ltd, (2003) 7 SCC 389

    The issue, in this case, was regarding the nature and scope of Section 133 of Cr.P.C. after the introduction of the Water Act and Air Act. The Supreme Court explaining the scope of Section 133 Cr.P.C. vis-à-vis the Water and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and 1981 observed that the area of operation in the code and the pollution laws in question were different with wholly different aims and objects even though they alleviate nuisance, but were not of identical nature.

    They operate in their respective fields and there is no impediment for their existence side by side. It was held that the provisions of Cr.P.C. can be invoked for removal of a public nuisance caused by the discharge of effluents and air discharge causing hardship to the general public. The order under Section 133 is conditional and of specific nature i.e essentially of preventive nature.

  32. Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation, AIR 1986 SC 180

  33. In this case, the petitioners, a journalist and two pavement dwellers challenged the governmental scheme by which pavement dwellers were being removed from the Bombay pavements. The main argument advanced on behalf of the petitioners was that evicting a pavement dweller or a slum dweller from his habitat amounts to depriving him of his right to livelihood, which is comprehended in the right guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution and therefore is unconstitutional.

    It was observed by the Supreme Court, that Social commitment is the quintessence of our Constitution which defines the conditions under which liberty has to be enjoyed and justice has to be administered. The Court directed the Municipal Corporation to provide alternate sites or accommodation to slum and pavement dwellers within a reasonable distance of their original sites.

  34. Ram Baj Singh v. Babulal, AIR 1982 All. 285

  35. In this case, the plaintiff, a medical practitioner constructed a consulting chamber opposite the brick-grinding machine erected by the respondent. There was a distance of 40 feet between the two and a road intervened between the grinding machine and the consulting chamber. The plaintiff alleged that the machine-generated dust polluted the general atmosphere and also enters his consulting chamber which caused physical inconvenience to him and his patients.

    The Allahabad High Court held that a nuisance is an act or omission which is an interference with disturbance or annoyance to a person in exercise or enjoyment of a right belonging to him as a member of public or owing to his ownership rights. The court observed that a person is ordinarily entitled to do anything on his own property provided such a thing is lawful.

    It was observed that, when something is done by the owner of a neighbouring land upon his own land which is not comfortable or is wholly uncomfortable with physical comfort and human existence, the person aggrieved in such cases gets a right to sue. This is a significant case as the Court allowed the private right of action for public nuisance by applying the liberal tests of a 'reasonable man' for the purpose of determining the existence of a nuisance.

  36. Intellectual Forum, Tirupathi v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 2006 SC 1350

  37. In this case, the Government without considering the well-planned development of Tirupathi town alienated the tank bed lands in favour of some governmental agencies for valuable considerations.

    The Supreme Court in this case held that tank is common property and State authorities are trustees to hold and manage such properties for the benefit of the community and they cannot be allowed to commit any act or omission which will infringe the right of the community & alienate the property to any other person or body.


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Updated On 2022-09-02T15:23:24+05:30
Ritika Chaturvedi

Ritika Chaturvedi

Ritika is an independent freelance legal researcher who graduated from the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.

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