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Case study on MC Mehta V/s Union of India (1997 1 SCC 388)

Author: Harshita Swami Student, Guwahati University, Assam


The following is a brief case analysis of M.C Mehta vs Kamal Nath. In this case , span motel Pvt Ltd , contributed to a massive encroachment of the land of the Beas river . This case is regarded as remarkable case in the Indian environmental law because if the fact that the polluter pay principle a d the public trust Doctrine is applied. This case has been read thoroughly , analysed under the various heads in the form of facts , issues and arguments , legal aspects involved, precedents of the high court and the Supreme court , critical overview of the judgement of the supreme court and suggestions for the same . The supreme court of India via the landmark case. ,restored the application of the public trust Doctrine and the polluter pay principle in India as well as USA.


M.C Mehta vs Kamal Nath and others is a landmark case in the Indian environmental law. The supreme court of India held in this case that the public trust Doctrine and the polluter pay principle will be applied in India.

Background of Case & Facts

The Indian express published an article which stated that a private company, span motels Pvt Ltd.( The motel company) the owner of the span company had started an ambitious project called the span club . It was. Believed that Kamal Nath, the environment minister has direct links with the company. The company encroached 27.12 hectares of land to the company on 11th April 1⁹4. The encroachment left an impact on  it’s activity which involved moving bulldozers and earth movers to turn the course of river for the second time. In September 1993 , the activities by the company resulted in flood in the river and  worth of Rs 105 crores were destroyed.


  1. Whether the span motels Pvt Ltd was environmentally deteriorating or not ?

  2. Whether there existed a breach of public trust Doctrine by the span motels Pvt Ltd ?

  3. Whether the span motels Pvt Ltd Co. Was liable or not ?

Arguments From The Appellants Side

It was contented that the construction activities and the act of diversion of the flow of river was taking place was illegal and directly against the lease .

Arguments From The Respondent Side

  1. Mr Kamal nath of the respondent’s side declared that he has been wrongly induced in the case as he has legal right , title or interest in the spam motel . He also further stated that the allegations which were made by the process against him were false and malafide which were intended to injure his reputation.

  2. Mr Banwari Lal Mathur whoever the executive director of the span motels Pvt Ltd , disclosed that all the shares in the motel are owned by the family of Mr. Kamal nath . The court however chose not to comment on this issue .

  3. Mrs Mukherjee , who was the president of the son motels ltd tried to defend the actions of motel stating that the act of restoring the river to its original course was done on the issue of good faith towards the environment and in the interest of the community living in the nearby villages.

  4. The motel also claimed thy they had taken action which protected the land from soil erosion such as constructing but we’re not able to finish the work due to the allegations levelled against him .

Legal Aspects

The case revolves around the public trust Doctrine and also considers the polluter pay principle to be one of the major significance owning to the present issue.

Precedents of Hon’ble High court & Hon’ble Supreme Court

A large no. Of countries adopted the public trust Doctrine in the laws of their land .There isn’t a wide variety of precedents in India considering the issue. The court in this  case has largely related on the American cases to establish the relevant matter .

In Illinois central railroad &co. Vs people of state Illinois[1] When a state holds a resource which is available for the free of use for the general public , the court will have to look into considerable skepticism upon any governmental conduct which is restricted uses to subject public uses to the self – interest of private parties .

In the case of Gould vs grey lock reservation committee[2]: the supreme court or Massachusetts took the first major step towards the development of the doctrine applicable to the charged in the use of the land dedicated to the public interest.

In the case of Socri vs Development of public works [3]:  the Massachusetts court restrained the dot of public works from filing a great pound as a part of its pan to relocate part of state highway. The department purported to act under the legislature authority. The court found the statutory power inadequate.

In the case of Robins vs dept of public works[4]: the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts restrained the public works department from acquiring fow ) meadows wetlands of considerable natural beauty, often used nature study and recreation for highway use .

In vellore citizens welfare forum vs UOI [5]: the court explained  that the precautionary principle and the polluter pay principle. They have also declared that as  essential features of the Stockholm declaration.

Critical Overview of Judgement

The supreme court in this case analysed the construction activities and the interference with the natural flow of the river and has declared this activity being degrading the environment is illegal in nature . There was a direct breach of public trust Doctrine by the government of Himachal Pradesh due ti the fact the land granted through the lease was ecologically fragile and was  for commercial purposes. The motel was ordered to pay compensation by way of cost for the reservation of the environment and ecology of the area . The motel was ordered to construct s boundary wall at a distance of not more than 4 mattes for the building of the motel beyond which they were not allowed to used land of the river Basin . The court restricted the motel form discharging effluents into the river basin . Himachal Pradesh pollution control board was directed to inspect and keep a check on the motel . The court also discusses the clash between the struggle of the public would reserve out environment and these charged with the administrative responsibility find it necessary to enroach upon the environment. They however held that the aesthetic use and the ecosystem is f the country Cannot t be permitted the use eroded for the private commercial in any other good use unless the court finds it necessary in good faith for the public good not in public interest.


The court was of the view that the attempts to divert the river flow and the construction activities were deteriorating the environment which lead to the application of the public trust Doctrine and the polluter pay principle in India . The court turned down the lease deed by which the forested land was leased and ordered the motel to pay compensation by way of cost for restitution of the environment and ecology if the area.


  1. . Mc. Mehta v. Kamal Nath and Others (1997) 1 SCC 388

  2. Illinois Central Railroad Co. V. People of the State of Illinois 146 US 387

  3. Gould v. Greylock Reservation Commission 350 Mass 410 (1996)

  4. Sacco v. Development of Public Works 532 Mass 670

  5. Robbins v. Deptt. Of Public Works 244 NE 2d 577

  6. National Audubon Society v. Superior Court of Alpine County 33 Cal 3d 419

  7. Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum v. Union of India (1996) 5 SCC 647

  8. Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action v. Union of India (1996) 3 SCC 212


[1] (1460S 387)

[2] 350 Mass 410 (1996)

[3] 532 Mass 670

[4] 244 NE 2D 577

[5] AIR 1996 SCC 328

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