The case is a milestone in the history of Indian environmental law. This case
is recognised as one of the most important and historic judgments ever made. The
Supreme Court did an amazing job of interpreting the "Public Trust Doctrine" and
enabling it to apply in India. It also contributed in the establishment of the
'Polluter Pay Principle' and the 'Principle of Deterrence.'
The Public Trust Doctrine asserts that the sovereign holds resources such as
land, sea, air, and forests in trust for public use, independent of private
property ownership. Land, sea, air, and woods are communal resources that belong
to all of humanity. These natural resources are seen to be a gift from the gods.
The government manages these in the public interest. As a result, no private
institution may possess or use the resources. The government is prohibited from
distributing certain public trust resources to any private entity for commercial
'Span Motels Private Limited.' was a private corporation operated by the
founders of Span Resorts that developed a new project known as "Span Club" on
the river's edge. The "Indian Express" released an explosive article headlined "Kamal
Nath defies the powerful Beas to keep his dreams floating" that revealed
problems with the Span Club's development. After the article was published, it
was discovered that the 'then Minister of Environment and Forests'.
Mr. Kamal Nath was involved directly in the Span Motel case. The Ministry of
Environment and Forests provided its previous approval to the corporation
leasing roughly 27.12 bighas of additional forest area in a letter dated
November 24, 1993. (Dated April 11, 1994). This decision allowed the company's
founders to proceed with their extravagant project, dubbed "Span Club," which
resulted in the river overflowing.
Also, owing to the pressure from bulldozers, tractor trolleys, and earthmovers
used to build strongly cemented embankments along the river, which caused a
shift in the Beas river's channel, the adjacent lawns were wiped away. In 1995,
the Beas River triggered a massive flood that damaged property valued roughly
Arguments Of The Petitioner
- Was the construction carried out by Span Motels Pvt. Ltd. legal and
- Is it possible that Mr. Kamal Nath was wrongfully charged by the court?
- Whether or not the "Public Trust Doctrine" applies in India?
The petitioner contended that this building disrupted the environment's
ecological balance and harmed the natural conditions of forest land, water, and
air, which are gifts from nature, and that it would be considered a breach of
Article 21's fundamental right. This would also constitute a breach of Article
"Protection of life and personal liberty" is the subject of Article 21. The
notion of the right to life includes nature and the environment, without which
life cannot be enjoyed in a healthy, joyful, and happy manner. As a result, it
has become a basic right of every Indian person to live a healthy life free of
"The duty of every citizen to look after the environment," as mentioned
in Article 51A (g). Every citizen of India has a responsibility to preserve and
maintain the environment since any disruption in any of the natural components
required for life would be harmful to the lives of all people of the nation.
Arguments Of The Respondent
Mr. Kamal Nath denied the charges levelled against him. He alleged that M.C.
Mehta had falsely accused him. He said that the claims made in the press reports
were unfounded. They are false and exaggerated, and then they were released to
tarnish his reputation. It was also claimed that the development took place on
land owned by Span Motel. The surrounding area was constructed to protect the
land from future floods.
This case was heard in court by a two-judge panel, which ordered and instructed
that: After so much deliberation, the court granted the "Public Trust Doctrine"
in this case. The public trust doctrine, as stated by the judges throughout the
hearing, should be included in the Land laws. The court rejected the earlier
approval issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, as well as the lease
instrument in favour of the corporation for an area of 27.12 bighas.
The Himachal Pradesh government was given the task of taking control of the land
and returning it to its natural and environmental state. The court ordered the
hotel to pay the cost of environmental and ecological restitution settlement
under the Polluter Pay Principle.
The pollution generated by the construction of the hotel on the River banks of
the Beas was ordered to be reversed and removed by the court. It was decided
that NEERI should investigate the motel's pollution control strategies. For its
development, the hotel was compelled to create a 4-meter-long boundary wall,
beyond which they were not entitled to access the river basin's property. The
Motel should not even use a portion of the river basin.
From the Motel's border wall, the river basin should be left intact. The river's
bank and basin should be left accessible to the general population. The hotel
was prohibited from dumping untreated sewage into the river. The Board was
ordered to inspect all hotels, institutions, and companies in the Kullu-Manali
area, and if any of them are discovered red-handed releasing untreated garbage
into the river, the Board shall take strict legal action against them. The
Motel, through its management, should demonstrate why an extra pollution fee is
not mandatory. The reports were to be submitted by the 17th of December 1996 and
listed on the 18th of December 1996.
According to the lawsuit Mr. Kamal Nath (Minister of the Environment and Forest
Department) abused his position, resulting in environmental deterioration,
damage, and pollution. He put his financial interests first, putting them ahead
of his responsibilities and duties to the nation's natural resources. In this
case, it was determined that Kamal Nath was directly engaged with the hotel
since he used to own a majority of the company's shares. Property damage
totaling over 105 crores was caused by his greed and misuse of authority.
An unprecedented flood caused the damage, which was the result of the hotel
company's ongoing building on the river bank. Mr. Kamal Nath was the subject of
a PIL filed by MC Mehta. After numerous debates and lengthy hearings, the court
issued a landmark decision allowing the Doctrine of Public Trust concept to be
applied in India. Finally, the Indian judiciary delivered justice to the
environment and natural resources, something the ministry of forest and the
environmental department had failed to achieve.
M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath & Ors.
is an important landmark case. This case
gave rise to a new notion in India:
The "Public Trust Doctrine" principle's application. Apart from this concept,
the judgement correctly applied two additional principles that were significant
under Environmental Law.
When the court ordered the hotel to pay the compensation costs, the "Polluter
Pay Principle" was used. When the court imposed exemplary damages on the hotel,
the "Principle of Deterrence" was used.
The doctrine of public trust lays the groundwork for increasing the impact of
Indian environmental laws' efficiency and efficacy. It also commands the state
to maintain and care for the natural resources that our mother nature has
bestowed upon us. They must be safeguarded, kept, and valued. It made it a
responsibility for Indian residents to safeguard their environment from harm,
since it is a fundamental right for every person to live in a healthy
This philosophy is extremely important for environmental conservation. The
decision not only upheld environmental justice for nature, but it also
established a successful and significant component of environmental legislation
in the country to help safeguard the environment. It became simpler for the
judiciary to rule on environmental disputes after this decision, such as Th.
Majra Singh v. Indian Oil Corporation
and M.I. Builders v. Radhey Shyam