M.C Mehta vs. Union Of India & Ors.

M.C Mehta vs. Union Of India & Ors.
W.P. (CIVIL) NO. 13029 OF 1985
M.C Mehta
Union Of India & Ors.
Date of Judgement
24th October, 2018
Deepak Gupta; Abdul Nazeer; Madan B. Lokur

Advocates who appeared in this case:

For Appearing Parties: Harish Salve, Sr. Adv., Aparajita Singh, A.D.N. Rao, Siddhartha Chowdhury, Advs., (A.Cs.), Atmaram N.S. Nadkarni, ASG, Anil Grover, S.S. Shamshery, AAGs, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Ranjit Kumar, Gopal Subramanium, Ashwini Kumar Mata, Sr. Advs., S. Wasim A. Qadri, D.L. Chidananda, Devashish Bharuka, Suhasini Sen, Ritesh Kumar, Amit Sharma, Rajesh Kumar Singh, Raj Bahadur, Snidha Mehra, Gurmeet Singh Makker, B.V. Balaram Das, Anil Katiyar, Shivam Kumar, Sanjay Kumar Visen, Monika Gusain, Baij Nath Patel, Rachna Gupta, Jitendra Kumar Tripathi, Sandeep Singh, Ankit Raj, Nidhi Jaswal, Indira Bhakar, Ruchi Kohli, Sandeep Narain, Avishkar Singhvi, Anjali Agarwal, Advs. for S. Narain and Co., Akshat Hansaria, Pawan Bhushan, Akash Chatterjee, Vijay K. Sondhi, Nakul Sachdeva, Nayamat S., Aakarshan Sahay, Advs. and Petitioner-in-person 


Air quality is a matter of social concern throughout the world in the context of the increasing pollution of industrial and vehicular air. While pollution arises from many different sources, vehicle exhaust is an important source of environmental air pollution and there is an urgent need to verify the extent of vehicle pollution, especially since it exists and is likely to continue to be a large increase in the stock of vehicular traffic in the country. Between 2000 and 2013, air pollution levels increased dramatically throughout India.[1] The roadmap for the gradual implementation of the BS standards was established by the government well in advance until the decision to skip a step of the BS V rule was made.

Background of the Study:

The Government of India announced the National Auto Fuel Policy for the implementation of the Bharat Stage (BS) rules for vehicle emissions on the recommendation of the Mashelkar Committee, established in 2001.[2] In the process of implementing the BS standards, some communications regarding the registration of motor vehicles were issued. On March 3, 2005, the Ministry of Maritime Transport, Road and Road Transport issued a communication in which from 1 April 2005, vehicles that comply with BS-III standards will be introduced in the cities of Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata. And the Ministry issued another communication on April 5, 2010, that from April 1, 2010, the BS-III standards would apply to all vehicles manufactured as of April 1, 2010. However, the BS-IV standards would be applicable in the National Capital Region and another ten megacities that are Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Hyderabad, etc.[3]

A new amendment was made on 19-8-2015 to sub-rule (15) of Rule 115 of the Rules adding a condition to the effect that BS-IV standards would enter into force throughout the country with respect to four-wheeled vehicles manufactured from 1-4-2017.

The application of BS-IV standards concerning two and three-wheeler vehicles was somewhat different. As mentioned earlier, the BS-III emission standards became applicable to two- and three-wheel vehicles on and from 1-4-2010. Subsequently, sub-rule (16) was inserted in Rule 115 of the Rules on 4-7-2014 so that the new models of two-wheeled vehicles manufactured on and after 1-4-2016 comply with the rules of BS-IV emission and existing models of two-wheelers would comply with BS-IV emission standards from 1-4-2017.

With respect to three-wheeled vehicles, sub-rule (17) was inserted in Rule 115 of the Rules on 12–2-2915 in the sense that BS-IV standards would apply to new models of three wheels manufactured on or after 1-4-2016 and for existing models of three-wheelers manufactured from 1-4-2017.

Proximate Developments:

More than a year after the presentation of 5-1-2016, Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) met with several stakeholders on 19-10-2016 to reduce vehicle emission standards. The country was well prepared for a national deployment of BS-IV automobile fuel. At the meeting, the representatives of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) assured that the automotive industry will not manufacture any vehicles on 1-4-2017 that do not comply with BS-IV emission standards. EPCA insisted that all manufacturers must ensure that stocks of vehicles that comply with BS-III run out before 1-4-2017 since vehicles that comply with BS-IV reduce pollution by approximately 80% in terms of particles compared to vehicles that comply with BS-III.

On 1-12-2016, SIAM wrote to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) confirming that only vehicles that comply with BS-IV from 1-4-2017 would be manufactured. This communication was answered by the CPCB on 10-12-2016 indicating that EPCA had convened the meeting on 19-10-2016 only to ensure that the stock of vehicles complying with BS-III run out before 1-4-2017.

Thereafter, communications were exchanged between EPCA and CPCB and SIAM in which it was reiterated that the stock of vehicles complying with BS-III should be exhausted before 31-3-2017, while SIAM stated that it would not be possible to exhaust the stock

In this context, one of the SIAM members, that is, Bajaj Auto submitted an application and prayed that the Court approves an order ordering the Union of India and EPCA to issue a communication to all vehicle manufacturers entering the 1 and 4. 2017 vehicles that do not comply with BS-IV would not be manufactured, sold or registered throughout the country.

A notice was issued to the request that led to a series of interventions by some car manufacturers, by SIAM and by an association of vehicle dealers. 

Constitutional and Statutory Provisions Discussed:

  • Article 21, 32 & 142 of the Constitution of India
  • Rule 115 of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989.


On the recommendations of the Mashelkar Committee established in 2001, the Government of India announced the National Automobile Policy. As of 01.04.2005, vehicles complying with BS-IV became mandatory for four-wheelers in the metropolis of Delhi, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Kolkata. Subsequently, more cities were added on 21-5-2010 and 14-7-2015. And finally, by means of an amendment of 19.08.2015, it was ordered that BS-IV standards would enter into force throughout the country as of 01.04.2017.

Two- and three-wheeled vehicles were subject to BS-III standards effective as of 01.04.2010 through the insertion of Sub-rule 16 in Rule 115 of the Central Rules of Motor Vehicles, 1989. And as of 04.01.2016, all two-wheeled vehicles will comply with BS-IV emission standards and all existing models will change to BS-IV emission standards as of 01.04.2014. Besides, through the insertion of Rule 17 into Rule 115 of 12-6-2015, BS-IV would apply to three-wheelers. And finally, those vehicles that only comply with BS-IV would be sold after 01.04.2017.

Procedural History:

In a previous ruling dated 13.04.2017, this record giving detailed reasons guided it as of 1.04. 2017, vehicles that do not comply with BS-IV will not be sold by any manufacturer or distributor or company of motor vehicles, be it a two-wheeled vehicle, three wheels, four wheels or commercial vehicles, etc. Also, said order is prohibited from registering non-BS-IV vehicles as of 01.04.2017, except if said vehicles were sold on 31.03.2017 or earlier. The court also ordered the implementation of the Bharat Stage compliant fuels.


  • Whether the accumulated stock of BS-III compliant vehicles manufactured on or before 31-3-2017 could be sold and registered after 1-4-2017?
  • Whether the stock of BS-III compliant vehicles manufactured on or before 31-3-2017 can be sold from 1-4-2017?


Contentions of the petitioners:

  • Ranjit Kumar, learned senior counsel and Mr. Sandeep Narain, learned counsel appearing for the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (for short ‘SIAM’), has submitted that though they are not averse to manufacturing BS-VI compliant vehicles, they should be given some time to sell the stocks of non- BS-VI compliant vehicles manufactured up to 31.03.2020.
  • It was argued on behalf of SIAM that in Europe the normal practice is that approximately one year is granted to vehicle manufacturers when higher fuel quality is introduced and the fuel is introduced much earlier and, thereafter, an external limit for sale of compliant vehicles. According to SIAM, BS-VI fuel will be available throughout the country only from 01.04.2020 and, therefore, manufacturers are forced to stop production after 31.03.2020.
  • It was also contended that the previous BS-VI fuel would be introduced with effect from 01.04.2024, which was adjusted to 01.04.2023 and then advanced to 01.04.2021 and finally the date was advanced to 01.04.2020. It was decided to move from BSIV fuel to BSVI fuel without switching to BSV fuel. According to SIAM, this is creating many difficulties for manufacturers.
  • It was urged on behalf of the manufacturers that there are multiple sources of pollution and vehicles only contribute to 2% of the pollution.

Contentions on behalf of the Respondents:

  • It is submitted that the Government of India while balancing the need for a cleaner environment with the practical difficulties faced by the manufacturers has given a three months’ window to the automobile manufacturers to dispose of the vehicles conforming to BS-IV norms.
  • A.N.S. Nadkarni learned that the Additional Attorney General says that considering the difficulties faced by manufacturers and balancing the need for a cleaner environment, the three-month period granted to manufacturers is reasonable. It was also urged that the Rules have not been challenged by either party and the Court should not enter into the validity of the Rules.
  • The Attorney General informed on 5-1-2016 presented that the quality fuel required for vehicles complying with BS-IV would be available from 1-4-2017. Also, the Indian Government refineries had incurred an expense of approximately Rs. Rs 30,000 million to produce fuel required for vehicles that comply with BS-IV.


Ratio Decidendi:

  • It is an established legal principle that the right to life, as provided in Article 21 of the Constitution of India, includes the right to a decent environment. It includes within its scope the right of a citizen to live in a clean environment.[4]
  • Various directions have been issued to ensure a clean environment and reduce pollution.[5] The right to clean environment is a fundamental right envisaged under article 21.[6]
  • The right to live in a smoke-free and pollution-free environment derives from the “quality” of life, which is an inherent part of Article 21 of the Constitution. The right to live with human dignity becomes illusory in the absence of a healthy environment.[7]
  • The right to life not only means leading a dignified life but also includes within its scope the right to lead a healthy and solid life in a clean and pollution-free atmosphere. These rights are not absolute and must coexist with sustainable development. And therefore, if there is a conflict between health and wealth; health will have to take priority.
  • The broader public interest has to overcome the much smaller pecuniary interest of the industry, in this case, the automobile industry, especially when there are all means to introduce the cleanest technology.
  • Sub-Rule 21 of Rule 115 is very vague and does not speak of vehicle sales. It only mentions the registration of vehicles and allows the registration of vehicles that comply with BS-IV standards until 30.06.2020 and in the case of categories M and N, until 30.09.2020. This rule violates Article 21 of the Constitution. Extend the time for vehicle registration beyond 31.03.2020 and should be read accordingly.
  • When it comes to the health of millions of people, the notification related to commercial activities should not be interpreted literally. ” One has to give purposive interpretation to the notifications, especially to those that deal with public health problems and even more, when the health of not only citizens today but also citizens in the future is involved.
  • In exercise of the power vested in this Court under Article 142 of the Constitution, this court read down sub­rule 21 of   Rule   115   and direct that   sub­rule   21   of   Rule   115   shall be interpreted and understood to read that no motor vehicle conforming to the emission standard   Bharat   Stage ­IV   shall be sold or registered in the entire country with effect from 01.04.2020.

Obiter Dicta:

  • The Court considered that SIAM has been investigating that the change to BS¬VI compatible vehicles are a long process that requires major changes in technology; the same manufacturers are selling and exporting BS-VI compatible vehicles to Europe and other countries.
  • The Court was of the opinion that some of the manufacturers are not willing to meet the deadline of 03.31.2020 not because they do not have the technology, but because the use of technology will lead to an increase in the cost of vehicles that can lead to the reduction of vehicle sales and, ultimately, of their profits.
  • The court was of the view that when BS-VI and BS-IV fuels are compared there is a massive improvement in environmental terms.
  • The court was of the view that it makes no economic sense to have more polluting vehicles on the roads. The effect of pollution on the environment and health is so huge that it cannot be compensated in the marginal extra profits that the manufacturers might -make. The amount spent on countering the ills of pollution such as polluted air damaged lungs and the cost of healthcare far outweigh the profits earned.    
  • There is enough time for manufacturers to switch to the new system and, therefore, we see no reason why they should be given a window of three or six months for the sale of accumulated vehicles.
  • The court was of the opinion that purposive interpretation should be given to notifications, especially those dealing with public health problems, and even more so when it comes to the health of not only current citizens but also citizens in the future.


Already in 1992, in the case of the Society for the Clean Environment v. Union of India,[8] the trial court extended the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution of India by including the “Right to a Clean Environment” as an integral part of the “Right to Life”.

The Court in the present case noted that “people’s health is more important than the commercial interest of car manufacturers.” By reaffirming its faith in this principle in letter and spirit, the Court made it clear that public health is much more important than the “commercial interests” of manufacturers. This Supreme Court decision and the cooperation extended by the industry in the implementation will contribute greatly to making India a cleaner, safer and healthier society.

Therefore, given greater public interest, that is, the health of the citizens of India, the Supreme Court correctly pronounced its ruling.

Edited by Parul Soni

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 


[1] Monil Shah, Chirag Mistry & Naresh Shimpi, Emission norms  (Case  Study), International  Journal of  Science and Research, 217–220 (2014).

[2] Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, National Auto Fuel Policy 5th Report, (last visited Jan 29, 2020, 5:00 P.M).

[3] Livemint, Twenty India cities to switch to BS-IV emission norms by 1 Mar, https://www.livemint.com/Politics/jSbTuZc2uJysn8pXD399BN/Twenty-Indian-cities-to-switch-to-BS-IV-emission-norms-by-1.html (last visited Jan 29, 2020, 6:00 P.M). 

[4] Bhavani River ­ Sakthi Sugars Ltd., In re, (1998) 2 SCC 601.

[5]M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1998) 6 SCC 60, M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1998) 6 SCC 63, M.C. Mehta v. Union of India (Matter regarding emission standard for vehicles), (1999) 6 SCC 12, M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (2002) 10 SCC 191.

[6] N.D. Jayal v. Union of India, (2004) 9 SCC 362.

[7] Shantistar Builders v. Narayan Khimalal Gotame & Ors. Etc,  AIR 1990 SC 630.  

[8] Society for the Clean Environment v. Union of India, 1992 BCR 3 362.

Abhishek Kumar
I am Abhishek Kumar, an enthusiastic law student at the National University of Study & Research in Law, Ranchi. Bearing an interest in the field of criminal law is what compelled me to take it as an Honors subject. I love to play guitar in my free time and being a sports aficionado I love to play Table Tennis and Volleyball. I also like to spend quality time reading articles of The Hindu Editorial page which helps me to be updated with the current issues.