By:- Saumya Patel

In the Supreme Court of India

    Name of the CaseM.C. Mehta vs Union of India    
    CitationAIR 1988 SC 1037;(1987) 4 SCC 463
    Date of Judgement22/09/1987 and 12/01/1988
    PetitionerM.C. Mehta
    Respondent(s)Union of India & Ors.
    Bench/JudgesE.S. Venkataramiah and K.N. Singh, JJ.
    Statutes / Constitution involvedThe Constitution of India 1949; The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Important Sections/Articles    The Constitution of India: Art. 48A & 51A The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act: Sec. 2(j), 16, 17, 24, 32. Environment (Protection) Act: Sec. 3(2)(iv), 9, 15.    


Man’s development is often seen to happen at the cost of the environment. From improper disposal of non-biodegradable items to large industrial discharge, everything takes a toll on the environment without which human life cannot thrive. The Ganga, which is regarded as the most sacred river in India, has now become a recipient of huge amounts of domestic and industrial waste. The case revolves around the discharge of harmful industrial effluents into the river.

The case analysis aims to scrutinize the background, facts, issues raised, arguments of both sides and highlighted concepts in the case and mentions them as succinctly as possible.

Man’s development is usually seen to happen at the value of the environment. From improper disposal of non-biodegradable things to massive industrial discharge, everything takes a toll on the surroundings which the human life cannot thrive. The Ganga, that is thought to be the foremost sacred stream in Republic of India, has become a recipient of enormous amounts of domestic and industrial waste. This case revolves throughout the discharge of harmful industrial effluents into the Ganga river.


Emanating from the range, the Ganga flows south and so eastward and drains itself into the Bay of Bengal area. Ganga has been the lifeline of the many civilizations in India. Kanpur is one of the major city located on the banks of  Ganga and discharges an enormous quantity of waste into the watercourse. The most waste product from this city is that the industrial/trade effluents from the animal skin (leather) trade.

The waste aqua from this trade contains “putrescible organic and harmful inorganic material” once discharged within the water can wipe out the amount of dissolved oxygen within the waterbody and can result in the death of aquatic life and would cause harm to people’s who consume this water. The case was concerned by the Supreme Court via a writ petition filed by the renowned attorney, Shri MC Mehta who is considered as a pioneer within the field of environmental law and it was found that a lot of industries on the banks of the Ganga watercourse were discharging their effluents into the watercourse even without primary treatment of a similar. The case is instead referred to as the Ganga Pollution case, Kanpur Leather Tanneries case.

Background of the case

M.C. Mehta v. Union of India and Ors is the 1st River pollution case to emerge in environmental public interest legal proceeding.

For over a century, Kanpur has been a serious Centre for India’s tannery business and is one among the three necessary industries next to paper and textiles. Most of those tanneries are situated on the southern banks of the Ganga, outside from Kanpur and extremely contaminating. Among all the cities of state (Uttar Pradesh), Kanpur contributes to the vast pollution load into the Holy Ganga.

When this petition came up for preliminary hearing, the court directed the difficulty of notice below Order 1 Rule 8 of the Code of Civil Procedure treating this case as a representative action by publishing the outline of the petition within the newspapers and calling upon all the industrialists and therefore the metropolitan enterprises and the city civil chambers having venue over the zones through that the watercourse Ganga streams to point out up below the steady gaze of the court and to point out cause regarding why headings ought not incline to them as implored by the candidate asking them to not allow the trade effluents and therefore the waste into the watercourse Ganga . Following the said notice various industrialists and native bodies have entered before the court. When the case came up for consideration before the court, it directed that the case against the tanneries at Jajmau space close to Kanpur would be concerned for hearing initial.

Facts of the case

  • 1985 in the pilgrimage city of Haridwar, along the Ganga; a matchstick tossed by a smoker resulted in the river catching on fire for more than 30 hours, due to the presence of a toxic layer of chemicals produced by a pharmaceutical firm.
  • In response to this incident M.C. Mehta, an environmental lawyer and social activist, filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court of India against about 89 respondents, wherein Respondent 1, Respondent 7, Respondent 8 and Respondent 9 were Union of India in 1985.
  • Mehta filed a petition (PIL) charging that, despite the advances created within the code, government authorities had not taken effective steps to stop environmental pollution of the stream Ganga.
  • The scale of the case – the whole 2,500-km stretch of the river – proved to be intractable. So the Court requested Mr. Mehta to narrow down his focus and he chose the city of Kanpur, despite neither being from the city nor living there.
  • Exploitation the judicial remedy of writ, he referred to as upon state agencies to stop leather tanneries and also the municipal corporation of Kanpur from taking out industrial and domestic effluent within the stream.
  • In some law reports, this can be referred to as the “Ganga Pollution Case. In this petition the petitioner requested the Supreme Court to restrain the respondents from cathartic effluents into the Ganga stream until the time they implements treatment plants for treatment of cyanogenic effluents to arrest pollution.
  • Mehta requested the court to order the animal skin (leather) tanneries of the district of Kanpur to prevent discharging their untreated effluent into the stream. He additionally claimed that the Municipal Corporation of Kanpur wasn’t endeavor treatment of domestic biodegradable pollution.

Issues Raised

  • Whether the authorities had paid attention to the worsening condition of the sacred watercourse and had initiated probation into the matter?
  • Whether any steps, had been taken by the state?
  • Whether the smaller industries ought to be funded for fixing effluent treatment plants? If yes, then what should be the standards to determine ‘smaller industries’?

Arguments from the Petitioner

The Petitioner had grieved that neither the authorities nor the individuals, whose lives were intricately connected with the stream and directed laid low with it, perceived to concerning the increasing levels of pollution of the Ganga and necessary steps were needed to stop an equivalent.

The Petitioner, within the capability of a lively public servant, had to sought-after a writ/direction/order within the nature of writ, leading inter alia inhibiting the Respondents from releasing cyanogenic effluents into the Ganga till they integrate applicable treatment plants to treat the effluents to prevent pollution.

Arguments from the Respondents

None of the tanneries controversial the very fact that the effluent discharge from the tanneries grossly pollutes the Ganga.

It was expressed that they discharge the trade effluents into the sewerage, that ends up in the Municipal sewerage Plants before discharge into the stream.

Some tanneries expressed that they already had primary treatment plants, whereas some are presently engaged within the same.

Some of the tanneries were members of the Hindustan Chambers of Commerce and a few of the opposite tanneries bonded that with the approval of Respondent 8 (State Board), they might construct primary treatment plants which might be operational at intervals a amount of six months from the date of hearing and in failing to try and do therefore, can pack up their tanneries.

However, they argued that it might not be potential for them to determine secondary treatment plants to treat the waste aqua because it would involve large expenditure that is on the far side their means that.

 Related Provisions/Sections

The case reminds the voters of the elemental duty to shield the setting as enshrined under Article 51A(g) that instructs the voters to try to shield and improve the natural setting together with forests, lakes, rivers and life, and to possess compassion for living creatures.

Protection of the setting has conjointly been considered the duty of the State under Article 48A of the Directive Principles of State Policy that says that “the State shall endeavour to shield and improve the setting and to safeguard the forests and life of the country”

The court examined the relevant provisions of The Water (Prevention and management of Pollution) Act, 1974 that was enacted in pursuance of a resolution gone many States under Article 252(1) of the Indian Constitution requiring a Parliamentary legislation to manage and forestall pollution in these states.

 The Act was then adopted by province in 1975. Section 24 of the Act prohibits the utilization of any stream or well for disposal of polluting matter. It lays down that “no person shall wittingly cause or allow any toxic, deadly or polluting matter determined following such standards as could also be arranged  down by the State Board to enter (whether directly or indirectly) into any stream or well or sewer or on land; or not a soul shall wittingly cause or allow to enter into any stream the other matter which can tend, either directly or together with similar matters, to impede the correct flow of the water of the stream during a manner leading or seemingly to guide to a considerable aggravation of pollution thanks to different causes or of its consequences.

The term ‘stream’ is outlined in Section 2(j) of the Act in step with that a stream includes “(i) river; (ii) watercourse (whether flowing or for the nonce dry); (iii) midland water (whether natural or artificial); (iv) sub-terranean waters; (v) ocean or periodic event waters to such extent or, to such purpose because the regime might, by notification within the Official Gazette, specify during this behalf institution of Central and State Boards are thought of permissible under the said Act.

Sections 3 and 4 of the Water Act provide for the establishment of the Central and State Boards. A State Board was constituted under Section 4 of the Water Act in the State of Uttar Pradesh.

 Section 16 of the Water Act sets out the functions of the Central Board and Section 17 of the Water Act lays down the functions of the State Board. The functions of the Central Board are primarily advisory and supervisory in character. The Central Board is also required to advise the Central Government on any matter concerning the prevention and control of water pollution and to co-ordinate the activities of the State Boards.

Sections 20, 21 and 23 of the Water Act confer power on the State Board to obtain information necessary for the implementation of the provisions of the Water Act, to take samples of effluents and to analyze them and to follow the procedure prescribed in connection therewith and the power of entry and inspection for the purpose of enforcing the provisions of the Water Act.

Section 32 of the Water Act confers the power on the State Board to take certain emergency measures in case of pollution of stream or well. Where it is apprehended by a Board that the water in any stream or well is likely to be polluted by reason of the disposal of any matter therein or of any likely disposal of any matter therein, or otherwise, the Board may under Section 33 of the Water Act make an application to a court not inferior to that of a Presidency Magistrate or a Magistrate of the first class, for restraining the person who is likely to cause such pollution from so causing.

In addition to the above Act, Parliament has also passed the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (29 of 1986) which has been brought into force throughout India with effect from 19-11-1986. Section 3 of this Act confers power on the Central Government to take all such measures as it deems necessary or expedient for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution.

 “Environment” includes water, air and land and the interrelationship which exists among and between water, air and land and human beings, other living creatures, plants, micro-organisms and property. [Vide Section 2(a) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986]

Under Section 3(2)(iv) of the said Act the Central Government may lay down standards for emission or discharge of environmental pollutants from various sources whatsoever. Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law but subject to the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Central Government may under Section 5 of the Act, in the exercise of its powers and performance of its functions under that Act issue directions in writing to any person, officer or authority and such authority is bound to comply with such directions. The power to issue directions under the said section includes the power to direct the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process or stoppage or regulation of the supply of electricity or water or any other service.

 Section 9 of the above mentioned Act imposes a duty on every person to take steps to prevent or mitigate the environmental pollution.

Section 15 of the said Act contains provisions relating to penalties that may be imposed for the contravention of any of the provisions of the said Act or directions issued thereunder. It is to be noticed that not much has been done even under this Act by the Central Government to stop the grave public nuisance caused by the tanneries at Jajmau, Kanpur.

The Court also relied on Section 251, 388, 396, 398, 405 and 407 of the Adhiniyam which provide provisions for disposal of sewage, prohibition of cultivation, use of manure, or irrigation injurious to health, power to require owners to clear away noxious vegetation and power of the Mukhya Nagar Adhikari to inspect any place at any time for the purpose of preventing spread of dangerous diseases. These provisions deal with the duties of the Nagar Mahapalika or the Mukhya Nagar Adhikari appointed under the Adhiniyam with regard to the disposal of sewage and protection of the environment.

These provisions governing the local bodies indicate that the Nagar Mahapalikas and the Municipal Boards.


In this petition the petitioner requested the court to request the Supreme Court to restrain the respondents from cathartic effluents into the Ganga watercourse until the time they incorporate sure treatment plants for treatment of unhealthful effluents to arrest pollution.

At the preliminary hearing the Court directed the problem of notice under Order I Rule 8 of the CPC, The Court highlighted the importance sure provisions in our constitutional framework that enshrine the importance and therefore the would like for shielding our surroundings.

 Article 48-A provides that the State shall endeavor to shield and improve the atmosphere and to safeguard the forests and wild lifetime of the country.

Article 51-A of the Constitution of India, imposes a basic duty on each national citizen to shield and improve the natural atmosphere as well as forests, lakes, rivers and wild life.

The Court declared the importance of the Water (Prevention and management of Pollution) Act, 1974 (‘the Water Act’). This act was passed to forestall and management pollution and maintaining water quality. This act established central and declared boards and bestowed them with power and functions about the management and interference of pollution.

Section 24 of the Act prohibits the employment of the employment of any ‘stream’ for disposal of polluting matter. A ‘stream’ under section 2(j) of the Act includes watercourse, The Act permits the institution of Central Boards and State Boards.

Section 16 and Section 17 of the Act describe the ability of those boards. One amongst the functions of the State Board is to examine waste product or trade effluents, plants for treatment of waste product and trade effluents.

The Court ordered the tanneries to establish primary treatment plants if not Secondary treatment plants. That is the minimum which the tanneries should do in the circumstances of the case.

The Court further held that the financial capacity of the tanneries should be considered as irrelevant while requiring them to establish primary treatment plants.

The Court held the despite the above-stated provisions in the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 Act no effective steps were taken by the State Board to prevent the discharge of effluents into the river Ganga. Also, despite the provisions in the Environment Protection Act, no effective steps were taken by the Central Government to prevent the public nuisance caused by the tanneries at Kanpur.

In addition to this, the Supreme Court further relied on Article 52A (g) of the Constitution of India, which imposes a fundamental duty of protecting and improving the natural environment. The Court order that –

  1.  It is the duty of the Central Government to direct all the educational institutions throughout India to teach at least for one hour in a week lessons relating to the protection and the improvement of the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife in the first ten classes.
  •   The Central Government shall get text books written for the said purpose and distribute them to the educational institutions free of cost. Children should be taught about the need for maintaining cleanliness commencing with the cleanliness of the house both inside and outside, and of the streets in which they live. Clean surroundings lead to healthy body and healthy mind. Training of teachers who teach this subject by the introduction of short term courses for such training shall also be considered. This should be done throughout India.


The entire case was based on the discharge of ‘trade effluents’ into water bodies (Ganga river during this case). Trade Effluents includes any liquid, volatilized or solid substance that is discharged from any premises used for carrying on any trade or business, apart from domestic waste material. The State Board is additionally entrusted with the work of birth down standards of treatment of waste material and trade effluents to be discharged into any specific stream taking under consideration the minimum fair-weather dilution obtainable therein stream and therefore the tolerance limits of pollution permissible within the water of the stream, once the discharge of such effluents.

The case analysed higher than brings out the importance of the surroundings and the way personalities square measure disrupting its natural balance. Numerous ideas associated with nature and therefore the international organisation Conference, 1972 are mentioned at length. The case mandated the industries in India to line up a primary treatment plant mandatorily and taught the authorities involved to require steps within the direction of curb the discharge of harmful effluents into the water-bodies (River Ganga within the instant case). Inconvenience caused to any of the industries by the approach of this specific demand would be thought of impertinent and it’s to be thought of as a primary demand given the prejudicial impact that these effluents will wear the surroundings.


I am Saumya Patel, a first year law student pursuing BBA.LLB (Hons.) from Amity University Rajasthan. Being a Law student my interest lies in Corporate Law , Public International Law and Commercial law. At last, I am able to work independently and as part of a team and can make valuable contributions to any legal team and looking forward to indulge myself in such opportunities

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