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

Equivalent citations: 1991 SCR (1) 866, 1991 SCC (2) 353
Petitioner: M.C.Mehta
Respondent: Union of India and Ors.
Bench: Misra, Rangnath (Cj)
Date of Judgement - 14/03/1991


Union Territory of Delhi has a total population of 96 lakhs. Out of this population approximately 90 lakh people reside in urban areas. At the time of independence the population of Delhi was around 5 lakh. In nearly 40 years, it multiplied by 19 times. This writ petition was filed by M.C. Mehta requesting the court to pass appropriate orders for the reduction of Vehicular Pollution in Delhi.

Discussion before the final judgement 

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.

Final Judgement –

The Supreme Court kept this writ petition pending for the purpose of monitoring and passed the following interim orders –

  1. Indian constitution recognises the importance of protection of environment, life, flora and fauna by the virtue of Article 51 A and Directive principles of state policy. Therefore, it is the duty of the state to protect the environment.
  2. All persons using automobiles should have a fair idea of the harmful effects on the environment due to the emissions caused by their vehicles. Awareness is an effective way of reducing environmental pollution.
  3. A committee was set up to look into the problem of Vehicular Pollution in Delhi and to find methods to arrest pollution. This committee was composed of a retired judge of the Supreme Court acting as the Chairman of the committee, M.C. Mehta (the petitioner), the Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board and a person representing the Association of the Indian Automobiles Manufacturers. The members were given the power to take advises from not more than three members. The Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests was appointed as the Convener-Secretary of the Committee. This committee came into effect from 18th March, 1991 under the Notification of the Union Government.
  4. The committee was setup with the following objectives –

(i) To make an assessment of the technologies available for vehicular pollution control in the world;

(ii) To make an assessment of the current status of technology available in India for controlling vehicular pollution;

(iii) To look at the low cost alternatives for operating vehicles at reduced pollution levels in the metropolitan cities of India.

(iv) To examine the feasibility of measures to reduce/eliminate pollution from motor vehicles both on short term and long term basis and make appropriate recommendations in this regard;

(v) To make specific recommendations on the administrative/legal regulations required for implementing the recommendations in (iii) above.

5. This committee was ordered to furnish a report to the Supreme Court within two months stating the steps taken        in the matter. The Union Government and Delhi Administration were directed to effectively cooperate with the        committee for its smooth operation.

Case Comment –

This was a landmark judgment with respect to Vehicular pollution in India. Later the Supreme Court also passed orders for the provision of Lead free petrol in the country and for the use of natural gas and other mode of fuels for use in the vehicles. Lead free petrol was introduced in four metropolitan cities in 1995. All cars manufactured after 1995 were fitted with catalytic convertors to reduce emissions. CNG outlets have been setup to provide CNG gas to vehicles. As a result of this case Delhi became the first city in the world to have a complete public transport running on Compressed Natural Gas.


[1]The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, No. 14, Acts of Parliament, 1986 (India).

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