M.C. Mehta Vs. Union of India, 1991; Vehicular Pollution Case

Supreme Court of India 
Equivalent citations: 1991 SCR (1) 866, 1991 SCC (2) 353
Date of Judgement - 14/03/1991
Misra, Rangnath (Cj)
Union of India and Ors.


The Union Territory of Delhi has a total population of about 96 lakhs, out of which the urban area consisting of old Delhi, New Delhi and the Cantonment has a population of around 90 lakhs. By 1947 when the country became independent, Delhi had a population of a little over 5 lakhs. In these little more than two scores of years the population has, thus, multiplied by 18 times. Though it is a spread-out city, in some pockets, the density of population is very high and these have become congested.

The problem of environmental pollution is global in an increasingly small world and concerns all countries irrespective of their size, level of development or ideology. Notwithstanding political division of the world into national units, the oceanic world is an inter-connected whole; the winds that blow over the countries are also one. Pollution is capable of moving from continent to continent.

Discussion before the final judgment

The Supreme Court acknowledged that the problem of environmental pollution is a global one. The effect of pollution is not restricted by the political boundaries of a country or a state. Its effect is widespread has both direct and indirect.

The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 stated that – “Man is both creature and molder of his environment which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. In the long and tortuous evolution of the human race on this planet a stage has been reached when, through rapid acceleration of science and technology, man has acquired the power to transform his environment in countless ways and on an unprecedented scale. Both aspects of man’s environment, the natural and the man-made, are essential to his well-being and to the enjoyment of basic human rights-even of life itself.”

Principle Number 1 of the same Declaration states that “man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.”

Court placed reliance on Article 48A and Article 51A of the Constitution of India –

Article 48A states that “the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”

Article 51A (g) states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

The Court held the incorporation of protection of environment as a duty of the State in the Directive Principles and the mandate in Article 51 indicate that the Constitution recognises the importance of environment. 

The Court took cognisance of the ‘report of a monitoring Committee on ambient and automotive emission levels’ prepared by the Director of Transport, Delhi Administration, to assess the impact of pollution caused by vehicles on the air of Delhi. This report indicated that Delhi had a total number of 5,92,584 vehicles of which 65% were two-wheeler, 3.5% were three-wheeler, 25% cars, jeeps and other medium size vehicles and 1.5% were buses and the remaining 7% were goods carriers. This indicates that the vehicular population of 1990 was 13.5 lakhs. This means that within about 8 years there has been an increase of about 8 lakhs of vehicles in Delhi.

Respondent 3 was the Central Pollution Control Board set up by the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.[1] The statute authorises the government to instruct the Transport Authorities for developing expertise and reducing vehicular pollution.

M.C. Mehta urged the Court to look into this case not just from a perspective of litigation but to move forward with useful deliberations so that some concrete solutions can be found. He presented them with some literature and gadgets which could reduce vehicular pollution. The Court mooted the question of eliminating use of motor spirit and replacement of battery operated two-wheeler. The Association of Indian Automobile Manufacturer made an application for intervention and presented some technical aspects. Therefore, the Court also mooted the question of setting up a committee which is capable of dealing with such technical aspects of Vehicular pollution.


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.

The appeal was filed by MC Mehta, an environmentalist under Article 32 approaching the Court to give headings for shutting down of unsafe businesses situated in the thickly populated territories of Delhi, and for regulation of air contamination brought about via vehicles working in the territory as additionally the warm units creating power for the Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking.

The court passed an interim order, keeping the writ petition pending to supervise, it was held-

  • The assimilation of environment protection guidelines as a duty of the State in the DPSP’s  furthermore, the directions in Article 51-A to the residents of India as a part of fundamental duties indicate the Constitutional recognition of significance of safe environment for both plant and animal lives.
  • Rules and regulations alone can’t help in re-establishing a uniformity in the biospheric disorder, and nor will the funds be of much help in improving environmental condition. The condition requires an observation and innovative preparation. It also requires continued action and result oriented vital planning and activity. Campaign for general arousing of the individuals using vehicles of different types and among the individuals residing in the Capital city is a basic starter.
  • Every individual using a vehicle ought to have a       fair information on the harmful impact on the lives of people and flora and fauna. Until that is done in a compelling way the fitting attitude would not be created and mutual aid for reducing pollution would not develop.
  • A Committee was established by the court to oversee the issue of vehicular pollution in Delhi and for developing ways and means of resolution of this issue.
  • A retired Judge of the court was to go about as Chairman, the petitioner and the Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board and the individual speaking to the Association of Indian Automobiles Manufacturers could be the individuals from the Board. The Committee would likewise have the ability to co-select experts not surpassing three for its effective working from time to time. The Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Condition and Forests will be the Convenor-Secretary of the Committee.
  • The Committee will be set up with effect from 18th March, 1991, under an applicable Notice of the Union Government.
  • The Committee will deliver a report to the Court once in two months with respect to the means taken in the matter. The Union Government and the Delhi Administration are coordinated to successfully collaborate with the Committee for its effective activity.

As a result of this case, Delhi has become the first city in the world to have complete public transportation running on CNG.

Case comment

This was a milestone judgment as for Vehicular contamination in India. Later the Supreme Court likewise passed orders for the arrangement of Lead free petroleum in the nation and for the utilization of natural gas and other method of powers for use in the vehicles. Lead free petroleum was presented in four metropolitan urban communities in 1995. All vehicles produced after 1995 were fitted with synergist convertors to diminish emanations.

After this judgement there was a significant decrease in number of autos in Delhi, around the year 1997 to 2010. All the while, by 2010, as the EPCA watched, the city was enrolling more than 1,000 new private vehicles consistently. Hence, in the period from 1997 to 2011.

A lot of CNG outlets have been arrangement to give CNG gas to vehicles. Because of this case Delhi turned into the primary city on the planet to have whole public transportation vehicles running on Compressed Natural Gas. Also, not long after this forced fuel change, there was a considerable drop in vehicular contamination in Delhi.


Parul Singh
I’m a law student at Banasthali Vidyapith , Jaipur and pursuing B.Com LLB.I love to learn new things because I feel learning redefines you. Since childhood I was interested in law because it is a field by which positive change can be made for the society