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

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1827
Taj Trapezium Case
Equivalent citations: 1987 AIR 1086, 1987 SCR (1) 819
Petitioner: M.C. Mehta And Anr
Respondent: Union Of India & Ors
Date of Judgement: 20/12/1986
Bench: Bhagwati, P.N. (Cj)

Background
This case is popularly known as the Taj Trapezium case. Taj Trapezium refers to an area of 10,400 sq. km. trapezium shaped area around Taj Mahal covering five districts in the region of Agra. Taj Mahal is one of the most popular and beautiful monuments of the world. Taj is one of the best examples of the Mughal architecture in India. It was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 1984, M.C. Mehta, a public interest lawyer visited Taj Mahal. He saw that the monument’s marble had turned yellow and was pitted as a result of pollutants from nearby industries. This compelled Mehta to file this petition before the Supreme Court[1].

The writ petition was attached with the report of the Expert Committee called “Report on Environmental Impact of Mathura Refinery” (Varadharajan Committee) published by the Government of India in 1978. The report indicated the sources of pollution in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ).

The Central Board for the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution, New Delhi, published its report on (Control of Urban Pollution Series) titled as “Inventory and Assessment of Pollution Emission in and Around Agra-Mathura Region”. It categorized the industries in Agra and its outskirts into seven different categories. They gave some statistics about the pollution levels and they were quite high. And said that by closing down two thermal power stations and replacing coal by diesel in the railway yards Sulphur dioxide emissions can be cut down by 50%.

Arguments of the Petitioner

  • The foundries, chemical industries, and the refinery are the major sources of the damage to the Taj Mahal. Gases like Sulphur-dioxide emitted by these industries combine with Oxygen with the help of moisture in the atmosphere and result in “Acid Rain”. This has a corroding effect on the marble of the Taj Mahal.
  • Damage to the marble used in the Taj Mahal is visible. A yellow pallor pervades the entire monument. At some places the yellow spots are magnified by ugly brown and black spots.
  • Taj Mahal is a monument of international repute. However, it is on its way to degradation due to atmospheric pollution. Thus, the petitioner sought directions from the Court to the authorities to take effective measures against the concerned polluters.

Orders passed by the Supreme Court before the final judgment –
On 8th January, 1993, the Supreme Court after hearing M.C. Mehta and taking cognizance of the report on the ‘Control of Urban Pollution’ by the Central Pollution Control Board reached to the conclusion that the main sources of pollution are iron foundries, ferro-alloyed industries, rubber processing, lime processing, engineering, chemical industry, brick refractory and vehicles. The Court further directed the U.P. Pollution Control Board (U.P.P.C.B.) to get a survey done of the area and prepare a list of all the industries and foundries which are the sources of pollution in the area.The court directed the U.P.P.C.B. to issue notices to all the foundries and industries in that region to satisfy the Board that necessary anti-pollution measures have been undertaken by the said industries/foundries.

The U.P.P.C.B. recognized 511 industries as directed by the court and issued notices to them. The court considered the affidavit of the Board. The court ordered the concerned industries file their replies to the notices by 5th May, 1993. The Court also directed the U.P.P.C.B. to issue a public notice by getting the same published in any two local newspapers and two national newspapers calling upon the concerned industries to install anti-pollution mechanism treatment plants.

Meanwhile, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) submitted its report regarding the Sulphur dioxide emission control measures at Mathura Refinery. However, the Mathura Refinery matter was dealt separately by the Supreme Court. NEERI in its report recommended the use of natural gas, setting up of Hydrocracking unit, improved Sulphur Recovery Unit, Chemo-biochemical Sulphur Recovery and the setting up of green belt around the refinery.The NEERI report examined in detail the decay mechanism and status of the Taj marble.

On 19th November, 1993, the Supreme Court suggested the respondents (Union of India) to find out the possibility of using natural gas as a fuel to the Glass Industries and Foundries around Agra and file a proposal till 26th November, 1993. The court also issued notices to the Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum, Govt. of India and the Chairman, Gas Authority of India, returnable on November 26, 1993. NEERI in its project proposal dated 19th December, 1993 suggested change over to cleaner fuel like ONG for mitigation of air pollution in the region.

The Court directed the UP State Industrial Development Corporation to locate sufficient areas outside the TTZ to relocate the industries.The Corporation filed affidavit dated March 3, 1994 indicating the location/area of various industrial estates which were available for relocation of the industries from TTZ.

The Varadharajan committee submitted its report regarding preservation of Taj Mahal and Agra monuments. By taking this report into consideration the court directed Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India and the State of Uttar Pradesh to come up with a relocation scheme so that all the industries can be shifted in a phased manner.

After taking cognizance of the two Varadharajan Reports (1978 and 1995) and various NEERI Reports and ordered the shifting of industries in the TTZ in a phased manner. The Supreme Court examined two four NEERI reports, two Varadharajan reports and several reports by the Board and held that industries in TTZ are active contributors to the air pollution.

The Court relied on Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India and Ors.[2], to define the “Precautionary Principle” and “The Polluter pays principle”.

In the words of the Court The “Precautionary Principle” means:

(i) Environmental measures-by the State Government and the statutory authorities-must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation.

(ii) Where there are threats of serious and irreversible damage, lack of scientific certainty should not be sued as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.

(iii) The “Onus of proof is on the actor or the developer/industrialist to show that his action is environmentally benign.

The polluter pays principle means that if a hazardous activity is carried out by any person, then such a person is liable to make good for the loss caused to the other person, irrespective of the fact whether he took reasonable care while carrying on his activity.

The Court accepted both the principles as the law of the land and consequently applied them to the present case.

Further, the court relied on Article 21 of the Constitution of India which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty. Also, Article 47, 48A and 51A(g) of the constitution state that raising the standard of public health and protection of natural environment.

The Court also relied on 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 (the Environment Act) to reach to the final conclusion.

Final judgment

The court in this judgment has acknowledged the fact that the Taj is threatenedwith deterioration and damage not only by the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing social and economic conditions which aggravate the situation with even more formidable phenomena of damage or destruction.

The Court took into consideration reports of various expert authorities and found out that the emissions generated by the industries are in fact air pollutants and have a corroding effect not only on the marble used in the Taj but also on the people living in the Taj Trapezium Zone. The atmospheric pollution in TTZ has to be reduced at any cost.

The Court by relying on the precautionary principle held that the environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. The ‘onus of proof is on an industry to show that its operation with the aid of coke/coal is environmentally benign. It is, rather, proved beyond doubt that the emissions generated by the use of coke/coal by the industries in TTZ are the main polluters of the ambient air’.

The Court further held that 292 industries shall change over to the natural gas as an industrial-fuel. The industries which are not in a position to obtain gas connections shall stop functioning with the aid of coke/coal in the TTZ and may relocate themselves. The Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) will take the final decision in respect to the applications for the grant of gas connections. Those industries which neither applies for gas connection nor for alternative industrial plot shall stop functioning with the aid of coke/coal in the TTZ.The relocating industries shall set up their respective units in the new industrial estates outside TTZ.

The Supreme Court also gave certain and rights and benefits to the workmen employed in these 292 industries. The workmen shall have continuity of employment at the new town and place where the industry is shifted.The period between the closure of the industry in Agra and its restart at the place of relocation shall be treated as active employment and the workmen shall be paid their full wages with continuity of service. Workmen who agree to shift shall be given one year’s wages as a ‘shifting bonus’. The workmen who do not intent to shift shall be deemed to have retrenched.

The Court decided to deal with the industries other than these 292 industries separately and directed the Board to issue separate notices and also public notices to the remaining industries in the TTZ to apply for gas connection/relocation

The Court further ordered to stop the operation of all the brick kilns in the TTZ. The bench also ordered that the fly ash produced in the process of the functioning of thermal plants may be supplied to the brick kilns for the construction of bricks. This would be a useful step to eliminate the pollution caused by fly ash.

The court further directed the following to monitor the air pollution in TTZ  –

(a) The setting up of hydro cracker unit and various other devices by the Mathura Refinery.

(b) The setting up of 50 bed hospital and two mobile dispensaries by the Mathura Refinery to provide medical aid to the people living in TTZ.

(c) Construction of Agra bypass to divert all the traffic which passes through the city of Agra.

(d) Additional amount of Rs. 99.54 crores sanctioned by the Planning Commission to be utilized by the State Government for the construction of electricity supply projects to ensure 100 per cent uninterrupted electricity to the TTZ.

(e) The construction of Gokul Barrage, water supply work of Gokul Barrage, roads around Gokul Barrage, Agra Barrage and water supply of Agra barrage, have also been undertaken on a time schedule basis to supply drinking water to the residents of Agra and to bring life into river Yamuna which is next to the Taj (Court order dated May 10, 1996 and August 30, 1996).

(f) Green belt as recommended by NEERI will be set up around Taj.

(g) The Court suggested to the Planning Commission by order dated September 4, 1996 to consider sanctioning separate allocation for the city of Agra and the creation of separate cell under the control of Central Government to safeguard and preserve the Taj, the city of Agra and other national heritage monuments in the TT.

(h) All emporia and shops functioning within the Taj premises have been directed to be closed.

(i) Directions were issued to the Government of India to decide the issue, pertaining to declaration of Agra as heritage city, within two months.

The issue relating to 292 industries was disposed off.

Case comment –

The judgment became a landmark one for environmental law jurisprudence in India. Authorities reported a significant reduction of Suspended Particulate Matter which is one of the pollutants causing discoloration of the Taj Mahal. This judgment is also a commendable move of the Supreme Court since the court has not only ordered for effective counter measures but also kept the rights and benefits of employees working in the industries secure. Recently, the Supreme Court bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta, on 31st July, 2018, cancelled all the industrial expansion that the government had allowed in the TTZ[3]. This order of the Court reflects a strict attitude of the Indian judiciary towards protection of archeological monuments and reducing air pollution in the country.

[References]

[1]Prakash K. Dutt, ‘Why Supreme Court is ready to shut down Taj Mahal’ INDIA TODAY, ( India Today, 11 July, 2018) <https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/why-supreme-court-is-ready-to-shut-down-taj-mahal-1282739-2018-07-11>  accessed 12 August 2018.

[2]Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India [1997] A.I.R. 734.

[3]Indian Legal Bureau ‘SC cancels all industrial expansion within Taj Trapezium Zone’ (India Legal Live, 11 July, 2018) <http://www.indialegallive.com/constitutional-law-news/courts-news/sc-cancels-all-industrial-expansion-plans-within-taj-trapezium-zone-51558> accessed 12  August 2018.