Case Studies


1. T. N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India {2000(1) SCALE 412}
13 January 2000

In an order delivered on 13 January 2000, the Supreme Court authorized the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) "to take such steps as it deems proper for necessary/appropriate investigation, storage, disposal etc. of the detained timber and also to carry out such actions in future for detention, seizure and investigation of timber which may include:

i. Seizure of timber during investigation and or confiscation of unclaimed timber or claimed timber for which completed details sought by MoEF are not furnished within stipulated period.

ii. Directing State Government/Railways/any other authority/consignees/consignors to furnish details/documents required for investigation

iii. Directing State Government/Railways/consignees/consignors keep custody of the timber.

iv. Disposal of the seized/confiscated timber through auctions/sealed tenders either directly or through State Governments or any other agency.

v. Constitution of a multi-disciplinary team to carry out investigations including from investigating agencies of Centre/State governments.

vi. Issue comprehensive guidelines and working instruction issued for regulating movement of timber and timber products, standardization of transit passes and reconciliation of movement of timber with its origin- for inside North-East as well as outside North-East.

vii. The applicant (MoEF) may delegate any of its powers to such officers as it may deem necessary for giving effect to its orders.

viii. Any other action deemed necessary in this regard."

The Court also directed that only the MoEF will "have the power and jurisdiction to not only to suspend the licenses of the saw mills which are or have been dealing in illegal timber but it also has the powers to order he sealing of the delinquent units as well as the authority to order cutting off the electricity to such units."

The Court further restrained any other court/authority form entertaining any petition, suit/application with regard to the seized timber. In absence of any lawful claimant, the seized timber was directed to be sold by public auction or by sealed tenders and sale proceeds was to be kept in a separate bank account for proper utilization.

The Court also permitted the "inter state movement of timber through the state of Madhya Pradesh i.e. the timber moving from one State to another State but no timber should be exported from the State of Madhya Pradesh itself." Carrying of a permitted granted by the concerned District Collector was also made an essential condition for any such movement.

2. Consumer Education and Research Society v. Union of India {2000 (1) SCALE 606}
16 February 2000

The question in Consumer Education and Research Society v. Union of India was that whether the resolution passed by the State legislature of Gujarat and subsequent government notification reducing the area of "Narayan Sarovar Chinkara Sanctuary" from 765.79 sq. km to 442.23 sq. km was legal. The resolution of State Legislature and the government notification were made under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972. The matter was earlier raised before the High Court of Gujarat and it had dismissed the writ petition. Through a Special Leave Petition it was raised before the apex court.

The forest in question is an edaphic thorn forest. It is a desert forest but with alrge number of trees and had been identified as a potential site for designation as a bio-sphere reserve by an Expert Committee constituted by the MoEF. It has been put in "Rich area category", from bio-diversity point of view, by the Gujarat Ecology Commission.

The Court held that:

… it will not be proper to invalidate the resolution of the State Legislature on such a ground when we find that it took the decision after duly deliberating upon the material which was available with it and did not think it necessary to call for further information. The power to take a decision for reduction of the notified area is not given to the State Government but to the State Legislature. The State Legislatures consists of representatives of the people and it can be presumed that those representatives know the local area and are also well aware of the requirements of that area. It will not be proper to question the decision of the State Legislature in a matter of this type unless there are substantial and compelling reasons to do so. Even when it is found by the Court that the decision was taken by the State Legislature hastily and without considering all the relevant aspects it will not be prudent to invalidate its decisions unless there is material to show that it will have irreversible adverse effect on the wildlife and the environment.

The Court also took note of the fact that Kutch was a backward district. Therefore, in order to ensure economic development of the region it was necessary to harness the potential of its rich mineral deposits. It was an attempt by the State Legislature and the State Government to balance the need of the environment and the need of the economic development. The Court, therefore, did not deem it proper to apply the "principle of Prohibition". However, the Court directed that it would be "proper and safe to apply the ‘Principle of Protection’ and the ‘Principle of Polluter Pays’ keeping in mind the principle of sustainable development and ‘principle of Inter-generation equity’ " in carrying out mining activities in the de-notified area.

The Court therefore refused to quash the impugned resolution and notification. It held that the " proper course to be adopted in this case was to permit restricted and controlled exploitation of the mineral wealth of that area. Watch its effects for a period of about five years and direct a comprehensive study of the notified area from the environmental point of view."

The Court, inter alia directed:

i. the Sate Government shall constitute a Committee headed by a retired Judge of the Gujarat High Court and consisting of experts in the fields of hydrology, soil erosion, and other related disciplines to make a comprehensive study of the relevant environmental aspects and also to study the effect of running of the cement plant set up outside the old sanctuary area.

ii. the State Government is restrained from giving permission to others to carry on any mining operation or to put up a cement plant within the area of 10 kms. from the periphery of the old sanctuary area without obtaining an order from this Court.

iii. the State Government shall also take steps to monitor air and water pollution in this area every three months through its officers and submit its report in that behalf. After considering the report the State Government shall take appropriate steps for controlling and improving the same.

iv. the State Government shall also submit a yearly report to this Court as regards action taken by it.

3. Ramji Patel v. Nagrik Upbhokta Marg Darshak Manch {2000 (1) SCALE 682}
17 February 2000

The order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court directing certain dairies located on the outskirts of the Jabalpur city, be shifted from their present location to alternatives sites was were subject of challenge in a Special Leave Petition (SLP) filed before the Supreme Court. The principal ground on which the petition relied was that the main water pipelines, which supplied water, after its filtration, to the Jabalpur city, passed through the place where a number of dairy owners, had started storing the cow/buffalo dung and waste of the dairy products, and that too, near the pipelines which was likely to contaminate the pure water supplied to the residents of the city for home consumption. The High Court after considering the Reports of Municipal Authorities and Public health Engineering Department asked the Municipal Corporation to remove the dairies within a specified time.

The apex court held that "Supply of pure drinking water is the statutory duty of the Municipal Corporation and the supply of such water has to be ensured to every citizen. In a situation, where the interest of the community is involved, the individual interest must yield to the community or the general interest. Since the Cattle (Control) Act, 1978 is already in force within the Municipal limits of Jabalpur city, the dairies cannot be established and the cattle cannot be kept so as to cause public nuisance in contravention of the statutory provisions." It also held that "milk dairies and the keeping of cattle . . . cannot be permitted to continue nor can anyone be permitted to establish it in those villages especially in the proximity of the main pipeline through which drinking water is supplied to the city of Jabalpur."

4. U.P. Pollution Control Board v. M/S. Mohan Meakins Ltd. {2000(2) SCALE 532}
27 March 2000

The Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board had in the year 1983 initiated proceedings against the directors and other officers of Mohan Meakins Limited for their act of discharging trade effluents in river Gomti in the city of Lucknow and thereby polluting it to impermissible levels. The trial court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate had issued process against the accused officers of the company twice but in revision proceedings the same were dismissed by the District Judge, both the times on different grounds. Aggrieved the Board moved the High Court in 1984 wherein its petition was dismissed after being pending for a period of nineteen years on 27 July 1999. The Board therefore, challenged the impugned order of the High Court in a SLP.

The apex court found the reasoning adopted by the District Judge in dismissing the issuance of process against the accused erroneous. The Court held that "where an offence under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 has been committed by a company every person who was in charge of and was responsible for the company for the conduct of the business of the Company is also made guilty of the offence by the statutory creation. Any officer of the company, who consented to or connived in the commission of the said offence, is made liable for the punishment of the offence. This is clearly discernible from section 47 of the Act."

Refusing to entertain the plea of respondents for rescuing them on the ground of lapse of a long time since the institution of the claim, the Court observed that:

Lapse of seventeen years in no doubt considerable, but the Board is not the least to be blamed for it. Since it is not a pleasant task to probe into the causes which contributed for such a long delay we chose to refrain from doing that exercise. Nonetheless, lapse of such long period cannot be a reason to absolve the respondent from the trial. It must reach its logical culmination. Courts cannot afford to lightly deal with cases involving pollution of air and water. The message must go to all concerned. The Courts will share the parliamentary concern on the escalating pollution level of our environment. Those who discharge noxious polluting effluents to streams may be unconcerned about the enormity of the injury which it inflicts on the public health at large, the irreparable impairment it causes on the aquatic organisms, the deleteriousness it imposes on the life and health of animals. So the courts should not deal with the prosecution for offences under the Act in a casual or routine matter. Parliamentary concern in the matter adequately reflected in strengthening the measures prescribed by the Statute. The court has no justification for ignoring the seriousness of the subject.

The Court ordered for an expeditious trial and asked the trial court to proceed "with faster pace and accelerated velocity."

5. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India {2000 (5) SCALE 121}
10 May 2000

In an order dated 10 May 2000 in M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, the Court directed the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to ensure that:

i. Petrol with 0.05% sulphur content is made available in National Capital Region (NCR) by 31 May 2000.

ii. Petrol with 1% benzene content is made available in National Capital Territory (NCT), Delhi by 1 October 2000.

iii. Diesel with 0.05% sulphur content is made available in NCR by 30 June 2001.

The Court after considering the Report of the Environment Protection Committee, headed by Shri Bhure Lal, permitted the registration of CNG kit fitted commercial vehicles having dual fuel mode facility, with petrol tanks of the following capacity:
(a) Four wheelers - 5ltr.
(b) Three wheelers -3ltr.
(c) Two wheelers - 2ltr.

6. Comdr. Sureshwar D. Sinha v. Union of India {2000(5) SCALE 122}
10 May 2000

The Court in an order dated 10 May 2000, stressed upon the importance of water harvesting as a means of supplementing the traditional sources of water supply. It noted that water harvesting would recharge the ground water, which was depleting at an alarming rate because of the unregulated use of the bore-wells. The Court said:

It is quite evident that water harvesting is the need of the hour though it may only be able to supplement and not replace the traditional sources of water supply. While the Delhi Jal Board should take all steps necessary and execute the projects for the purposes of water harvesting, we do not find any cogent steps having been taken by the authority which should have been in the forefront to do so, namely, the Delhi Development Authority. There has in fact been no development in this regard. As far as the said authority is concerned, we can take judicial notice of the fact that the residential colonies established by the DDA are some of the worst affected areas as far as the shortage of water is concerned.

The Court also constituted a Committee consisting of Shri Laksman Rao, Member (Finance) DDA as the Chairman, Member (Engineering) DDA and an NGO person Ms. Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment as its Member. The Committee has been mandated by the Court to execute in the first phase water harvesting projects in the DDA colonies like Vasant Kunj and the adjoining areas, which there was acute shortage of water. The Committee was directed to take immediate steps so that the benefit of the nest monsoon session was not lost. Delhi Administration and DDA were directed to provide necessary funds to the Committee.

7. News Item "Hindustan Times" A.Q.F.M. Yamuna v. Central Pollution Control Board {2000(5) SCALE 127}
11 May 2000

In the proceedings on 11 May 2000 the Court took note of the non-compliance of its earlier orders with regard to the quality of water in the river Yamuna. On tallying the reports furnished by the Central Pollution Control Board and Shriram Institute the Court found that the quality of water was far below the acceptable limit.

It noted with concern the delay in setting up of various type of treatment plants which alone could improve the water quality which was being discharged into the river. The Court had ordered for the establishment of treatment plant first in 1995, but till date none have been established.

Meanwhile, newspaper reports indicated some of the polluting units which had been sealed had been operating on the sly. Questioning the administrations action the Court said that

. . . it is quite obvious that the units could not have begun operation if the sealing had been effected and properly monitored. A mere promise to improve the quality of water is not enough. The Government must govern and implement and enforce its own rules and regulations. How the implementation is to be done depends upon the policy decision taken by the administration and it is not for this Court to give advice as what such decision should be. All that is required is … that the river water must become potable after treatment. Today, it is worse than a drain with no dissolved oxygen in it.

Taking note of the assurance of "renewed efforts" to personally monitor the performance by new Chief Secretary of Delhi the Court gave some more time to the Administration to show improvement in the water quality. It imposed a nominal fine of Rs. 10,000/- on Delhi Administration and in view of the Chief Secretary’s assurance suspended its realisation.

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