Landmark Cases

Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of the world and the pride of India was facing serious threat from pollution caused by Mathura Refinery, iron foundries, glass and other chemical industries. As a result of very high toxic emissions from these industries, the Taj Mahal and 255 other historic monuments within the Taj trapezium were facing serious threat because of acid rain.
The Petition was filed in the year 1984. The Supreme Court of India delivered a historic Judgement in December 1996. The apex Court gave various directions including banning the use of coal and coke and directing the industries to switch over to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).

Three landmark judgments and a number of Orders against polluting industries numbering more than fifty thousand in the Ganga basin passed from time to time. A substantial success has been achieved by way of creating awareness and controlling pollution in the river Ganges. In this case, apart from industries, more than 250 towns and cities have been ordered to put sewage treatment plants.

Six hundred tanneries operating in highly congested residential area of Kolkata have been shifted out of the City and relocated in a planned Leather Complex in the State of West Bengal. A large number of industries were closed down by the Court and were allowed to reopen only after these industries set up effluent treatment plants and controlled pollution. As a result of these directions millions of people have been saved from the effects of air and water pollution in Ganga basin covering 8 states in India.
Against vehicular pollution in India the Supreme Court delivered a landmark judgment in 1992. A retired Judge of the Supreme Court was appointed along with three members to recommend measures for the nationwide control of vehicular pollution.
Orders for providing Lead free petrol in the country and for the use of natural gas and other mode of fuels for use in the vehicles in India have been passed and carried out. Lead-free petrol had been introduced in the four metropolitan cities from April 1995; all new cars registered from April 1995 onwards have been fitted with catalytic convertors; COG outlets have been set up to provide CNG as a clean fuel in Delhi and other cities in India apart from Euro 2 norms. As a result of this case, Delhi has become the first city in the world to have complete public transportation running on CNG.

Oleum Gas Leak Case
This is a landmark judgment in which the principle of Absolute Liability was laid down. The fertilizer plant was situated very close to human habitation and the court held that the carrying on of a hazardous industry in such proximity to population could not be permitted and the factory was relocated. The deep pocket principle was also laid down in the instant case. This judgment also ushered in a period of dramatic legislative progress in India. The Parliament added an entirely new chapter to the 1948 Factory Act, incorporating sections almost verbatim from the Judgment. The Public Liability Insurance Act was passed and the policy for the abatement of Pollution Control was established. Moreover, the Environment Protection Act was passed and the Policy for the Abatement of Pollution Control was established.

About 10 million people living in Delhi and millions of people living along the banks of river Yamuna were exposed to health hazards from water contamination due to total absence of sewage treatment plant in many areas of Delhi. A time bound programme was given by the Supreme Court to the Delhi Municipal Corporation for setting up of treatment plant in 16 different localities in this case.

By raising issue of exploitation of child labour in Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu) match and fireworks factories, more than one million children working in hazardous industries in Tamil Nadu and other States in India were benefited. Thus ambit of the case was widened to include child labour in the whole country.
The Supreme Court directed all the States to identify children forced into labour and come out with schemes for their rehabilitation. Child labour in hazardous industries has been banned. In another case, 194 children illegally detained in different jails in Orissa were released.
Succeeded in getting orders from the Court that all over the country the cinema theaters will exhibit two slides free of cost on environment in each show failing which their licenses will be cancelled, a minimum 5 to 7 minutes will be given by the television network in the country to televise programmes on environment apart from giving a regular weekly programme on environment. Environment has become a compulsory subject up to 12th standard from academic session 1992 and University Grants Commission will also introduce this subject in higher classes in different Universities.


To save the Delhi ridge from destruction an order from the Supreme Court was obtained directing NCT of Delhi to declare it as ‘Reserved Forest’.


In a historic case, 212 stone crushers were shifted out of Delhi to a ‘Crushing Zone’ set up in Haryana by an order of the Supreme Court on May 15th, 1992. Emission of more than 1500 tons of dust emitted daily in the atmosphere has been eliminated.


In the State of Himachal Pradesh, Span motel, owned by the family members of Shri Kamal Nath, Minister for Environment and Forests, Govt. of India diverted the Course of river Beas to beautify the motel and also encroached upon some forest land. The apex court ordered the management of the Span motel to hand over forest land to the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh and remove all sorts of encroachments.

The Court delivered a land mark judgment and established principle of exemplary damages for the first time in India. The Court said that polluter must pay to reverse the damage caused by his act and imposed a fine of Rs Ten Lakhs (Rs 10,00,000) on the Span motel as exemplary damages. The Supreme Court of India recognized Polluter Pays Principle and Public Trust Doctrine.


Despite Coastal Zone Regulation Notification of February 1991, none of the coastal states had formulated coastal zone management plan, with the result that haphazard construction and industrial activity was being permitted anywhere in the coast leading to large scale damage to coastal ecology and loss of livelihood to lakhs of fishermen and other indigenous communities dependent on marine resources. A writ petition was filed on behalf of Indian Council for Enviro- Legal Action (ICELA) and the Supreme Court delivered a landmark Judgement banning industrial/ construction activity within 500 mtrs of the High Tide Line and set a time limit for the coastal states to formulate coastal management plans.


In the heart of Mumbai at Antop Hill, a large-scale chemicals storage center for hazardous chemicals was being proposed to be set up flouting all environmental considerations and safety of more than 1.5 million people living in and around that area. A case was filed in the Supreme Court and timely action stopped the authorities/industries from locating such godowns.


Due to filing of case against radiation from a Gamma Chamber, students and teachers in Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi were saved from hazardous radiation.


In Rajasthan at Bichhri, 5 small chemical industries, owned by a single owner, were operating without effluent treatment plant. Toxic effluents from the industries entered the ground water and wells of 14 villages became affected. After six years of battle in the Court, the Supreme Court delivered a Judgement in March 1996 directing the closure of the factories and attached the property of the polluter and directed the Department of Environment and Forests Govt. of India to recover the cost of eco- restoration from the industries held responsible for causing damage to the environment.


Unsystematic and unscientific tapping of groundwater all over the country had led to alarming fall in the levels of groundwater and data provided by Ground Water Board showed a near crisis situation developing in many areas of the country. Further, the contamination of ground water due to indiscriminate discharge of toxic effluents on the ground and surface water bodies was going on in an unchecked and uncontrolled manner and pollution control Boards were not in a position to either assess the extent of ground water contamination or identify the sources of contamination. The ground water board had no teeth or legal authority to take action against offending parties. This matter was taken up in the Supreme Court and vide an historic Judgement, Ground Water Board had been made into an AUTHORITY invested with legal powers under the Environment Protection Act 1986 to issue licenses and take action against polluters even to the extent of closing down of offending industries.