MC MEHTA vs KAMAL NATH
- Span Motels Private Ltd. (‘the Motel Company’), the owner of Span Resorts, had floated an ambitious project called Span Club, according to an article published in the Indian Express. The business had direct links to Kamal Nath, the Minister of Environment and Forests. The company took over 27.12 acres of land, which included forest land. On April 11, 1994, the land was regularised and then leased to the company.
- When Kamal Nath was Minister of Environment and Forests, the regularisation was completed. The Beas River swelled as a result of the occupation and encroachment, and the swollen river reversed its direction and washed the Span Club and the surrounding lawns downstream.
- The course of the river Beas was altered as a result of this encroachment. The Period Resorts management used bulldozers and earthmovers for more than 5 months to change the river’s course for the second time. These activities by the company resulted in floods in the river in September 1993, destroying property worth Rs. 105 crores.
- Is it possible that the court erred in inducting Mr. Kamal Nath as a respondent in the current petition?
- Whether or not the Motel Company’s construction operation was justified?
ARGUMENT BY PETITIONER
- It was claimed that the ongoing construction works, as well as the attempted diversion of river flow, were unlawful and in violation of the contract.
ARGUMENT BY RESPONDENT
- The respondent, Mr. Kamal Nath, has stated that he has been wronged in the above petition because he has no right, title, or interest in ‘Span Resorts.’ He also claims that the charges in the press reports are false and exaggerated and that they were released to damage his reputation.
- Banwari Lal Mathur, the Executive Director of Span Motels, also revealed the ownership of Span Motels Pvt. Ltd, which is almost entirely owned by Mr. Kamal Nath’s family. The Court, on the other hand, chose to remain silent on the issue.
- S. Mukerji, President of Span Motels Pvt Ltd, attempted to justify the Motel’s conduct by claiming that the act of restoring the river to its original course was undertaken in the interest of the community living in the surrounding villages and in good faith with the environment.
- The Motel also said that they had taken steps to protect the property from flooding, such as building crates, retaining walls, and embankments along the shore, but that they were unable to complete the work due to the allegations.
DOCTRINE OF PUBLIC TRUST
- In this case, the Supreme Court used the “Doctrine of Public Trust.” The doctrine of public trust is an ancient legal doctrine that states that certain common resources, such as rivers, seashores, woods, and the air, are kept in trust by the government for the general public’s free and unrestricted use.
- These resources were either held by no one (res Nullius) or by all in common under Roman law (Res Communion). The Sovereign could own these resources under English common law, but only to a limited extent; the Crown could not assign these assets to private owners if the result was to jeopardize public interests in navigation or fishing.
- The Public Trust Doctrine is based on the idea that some resources, such as air, sea, water, and forests, are so important to the people as a whole than making them private property would be unjustified. Since the aforementioned tools are a gift from nature, they should be made freely accessible to all, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
- There is a big river basin in this case that is part of protected forest land. The Government of Himachal Pradesh leased this land to the Motel Company for commercial purposes. By leasing ecologically sensitive land to the Motel management, the Himachal Pradesh government was found to have committed a clear breach of public trust.
- The public trust doctrine, which we address in this decision, is a part of the common law. The Court quashed the lease-deed that leased forested land to the Motel Company, ruling that the Motel Company’s construction operation was not justified.
- The Motel was ordered to pay cost compensation for the restoration of the area’s habitat and ecology.
- The Motel was required to build a 4-meter-long boundary wall for the construction of the motel, beyond which they were not permitted to use the river basin’s property.
- The Motel was prohibited from discharging untreated effluent into the river by the court. The Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board was tasked with inspecting and monitoring the situation.
CRITICAL OVERVIEW OF THE JUDGEMENT
- In this case, the Supreme Court examined the construction activities and interference with the natural flow of the river, concluding that this practice is environmentally damaging and thus illegal. Since the land given via lease was ecologically vulnerable and was for agricultural purposes, the Himachal Pradesh government violated the Public Trust Doctrine.
- The Court quashed the lease deed that rented the forested land to the Motel, ruling that the Motel’s construction activities were not justified. The Motel was ordered to pay cost compensation for the restoration of the area’s habitat and ecology.
- The Motel was required to build a 4-meter-long boundary wall for the construction of the motel, beyond which they were not permitted to use the river basin’s property. The Motel was prohibited from discharging untreated effluent into the river by the court. The Himachal Pradesh Pollution Control Board was tasked with inspecting and monitoring the Motel.
- The Court also addressed the conflict between those in the public who want to protect the environment and those with administrative obligations who believe it is important to encroach on the environment.
- They did, however, hold that the country’s aesthetic usage and habitats cannot be eroded for private, commercial, or any other good use unless the courts determine that doing so is appropriate, in good faith, for the public good, and in the public interest. They had claimed that the legislature, not the courts, should resolve the dispute.
- Since the court agreed to cross the conventional limits of Environmental jurisprudence in India, the judgment is a landmark decision and one of the most relevant cases relating to Environmental law in India. As a result, a new idea was born that was previously unknown in the law of the land. The Indian legal framework has successfully adopted the Public Trust doctrine.
- The Public Trust Doctrine has unquestionably been entrenched in our legal system as a result of M.C. Mehta vs. Kamal Nath. Subsequent rulings on the subject have reaffirmed this.
- The National Green Tribunal ruled in Shree Santh Dasganu Maharaja Singh v. Indian Oil Corporation on August 28, 2015, that the doctrine had become a part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and that the state had a duty to protect natural resources.
- The Supreme Court upheld the Public Trust doctrine in I. Builders v Radhey Shyam Sahu by prohibiting the building of a shopping complex in a park. As a result, Indian courts have consistently extended the doctrine of public trust to hold that the state is not the owner of natural resources, but rather a trustee who is responsible for their security.
 (1997)1 SCC 388
 AIR 1999 J K 81
 JT (1999) 9 SC 86