M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, (2000) 6 SCC 213


In this case ,The Indian Express reported in an article that a private company, Span Motels Private Ltd, has launched a project called Span Club. The Supreme Court took notice of this article. The company’s owner had a close relationship with Kamal Nath’s family, a former Minister of Environment and Forests. When Kamal Nath was a minister in 1994, the Span Motels had encroached on 27.12 acres of forest land. The motel used bulldozers to change the course of the river Beas and redirect its flow. The river was diverted to protect the motel from future floods. The question was whether the Motel Company’s construction activity was justified.

The Judgment of the Court

The public trust doctrine, as discussed in this decision, is a part of the law of the land. The Himachal Pradesh government was asked to take over the area and restore it to its natural state. The area is ecologically fragile and therefore should not be converted into private ownership

The Motel was asked to pay cost compensation for the restoration of the area’s environment and ecology. The pollution caused by the Motel’s various constructions in the riverbed and on the banks of the river Beas must be removed and reversed.

The Motel was ordered to build a boundary wall no more than 4 meters from the cluster of rooms (the main building of the Motel) towards the river basin. The boundary wall shall be on the sea of the Motel which is covered by the lease dated September 29, 1981. The Motel shall not encroach over utilizing any part of the river basin. They were ordered not to discharge untreated effluents into the sea.

Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board was ordered to not give permits for realizing untreated effluents in the river Beas.

Mr M.C. Mehta, who has pursued this case with his usual zeal and fervour, has contended that if a person disturbs the ecological balance and tampers with the natural conditions of rivers, forests, air, and water, which are gifts of nature, he would be violating not only the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution but also the fundamental duties to protect the environment under Article 51 A(g), which provides that it shall be the duty of every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to show compassion for living creatures.

It was held that once an activity was deemed hazardous or inherently dangerous, the person engaging in that activity was obligated to compensate any other person who suffered a loss as a result of that activity. This principle was also followed in Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India, which was discussed in the main judgment in the current case. As a result, the Motel was ordered to pay compensation in the form of a cost for the restoration of the area’s environment.

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