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M.C. Mehta v. Union of India and ors.

Type of court
National - higher court
Dec 30, 1996
Court name
Supreme Court of India
Seat of court
New Delhi
Kuldip Singh
Faizan Uddin.
Reference number
AIR 1997 SC 734
Environment gen., Air & atmosphere
Pollution control Air pollution (stationary sources) Cultural heritage Air quality/air pollution
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. In 1984, the petitioner filed a writ petition in public interest in this Court alleging that the Taj, a monument of international repute, was on its way to degradation due to atmospheric pollution and it was imperative that preventive steps were taken soon. According to the opinion of expert committees including National Environmental Engineering Research In-stitute (NEERI) it was proved beyond doubt that the emissions generated by the use of coke/coal by the industries in the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ) were the main polluters of the ambient air and had damaging effect on the Taj and the people living in the TTZ. The petitioner had sought appropriate directions to the authorities concerned to take immediate steps to stop air pollution in the TTZ and save the Taj. The Court observed that the Taj, apart from being cultural heritage, is an industry by itself, More than two million tourists visit the Taj every year. It is a source of revenue for the country. The Court has monitored this petition for over three years with the sole object of preserving and protecting the Taj from deterioration and damage due to atmospheric and environmental pollution. It cannot be disputed that the use of coke/coal by the industries emit pollution in the ambient air. The objective behind this litigation is to stop the pollution while encouraging development of industry. The old concept that development and ecology cannot go together is no longer acceptable. Sustainable development is the answer. The development of industry is essential for the economy of the country, but at the same time the environment and eco-system have to be protected. The pollution created as a consequence of development must commensurate with the carrying capacity of eco-systems. The atmospheric pollution in TTZ has to be eliminated at any cost. Not even one percent chance can be taken when, human life apart, the preservation of a prestigious monu-ment like the Taj is involved. In any case, in view of the precautionary principle, the environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation. Various orders were passed by the Court. The Court created a Taj Trapezium which consisted of 10, 400 sq. Kms in the shape of a trapezium to regulates activities in relation to air pollution. The Court took into consideration the recommendations of the Varadarajan Committee. Amongst its several recommendations, it stated that studies should be undertaken by competent agencies to explore the possibility of protecting the Taj monuments by measures such as provision of a green belt. Even NEERI, in its report, suggested the setting up of a green belt around the Mathura Refinery. It is to be noted that this was the first time, that the Court conceptualized a “green belt” as an effective mode of environmental protection. Industries were asked to shift to eco friendly fuel and use lessen the use of diesels generators, and asked the State to improve power supply the city. Tanneries operating from Agra were asked to shift from the Trapezium. The Pollution Control Boards [State and Central] were asked to monitor any further deterioration in the quality of air and report the same to the Court. Further the Court asked the government to take steps to undo the wrong on the environment and the white marbles at Taj and to take clean up operations.
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