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M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath Case Brief

M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath & Ors (1997)1 SCC 388 Case Summary

Facts of the case

An article reporting Span Motel Private Limited, which owned Span Resorts, was published in Indian Express. The same organization has started another venture known as Span club. The land of 27.12 Bighas including a sustainable forest land in the year of 1990. When Kamal Nath was Environment minister the land was regularized and it was given out for lease in the year 1994. Beas River, as time passed by the Span Club and the Adjoining lawns was washed away. The Span Club management was still moving bulldozers and earth movers and turned away from the course of Beas River for a second time. Due to this in the month of September a huge flood broke out of Beas River and destroyed the property estimated at Rs. 105 cores. After such a huge disaster the Government of India and the Ministry of Environment and Forest has addressed the Himachal Pradesh government regarding the issue. Further there was an expert committee which was formed to address the issue. They stated that Beas River is currently in a highly unstable state and it is merely impossible to predict whether a similar situation will arise in the near future. They also stated that a long term planning has to be carried out in the Kullu Valley so that permanent measures can be carried out to protect the area so that such heavy flooding is mitigated permanently. 

Issues 

  1. Whether the construction undertaken legally and whether it is justified?
  2. Whether Court has wrongly notified that Mr. Kamal Nath as a respondent to the present case?

Contentions

Regarding the first issue, the respondents have stated that the construction was done by the Motel Company to protect their lease hold property. It is also to be noted that liability does not come upon the Divisional Forest Officer for any loss suffered by Motel Company during the construction.  Regarding the second issue the respondent never argued that the family of Mr. Kamal Nath owns most of the shares of the Motel Company.

Proceedings before declaring the Final Judgment

The Report published in the Indian Express on 25th February was taken into consideration by the Supreme Court of India it has also noted the report stating how Mr. .Kamal Nath had direct connection with Span Motel Pvt Ltd, which owns Span resorts. Reports also represented the motive of Mr. Kamal Nath to have a dream house  at the bank of river and Supreme court also noticed how the property is been encroached and how it was later been regularised when Mr. Kamal Nath became the Minister of Environment and Forest.

A counter Affidavit was filed by Mr. Kamal Nath stating that he is been wrongly intrusted as a respondent to the case and the court held that, this point was never argued my Mr. Harish Salve, who was the counsel appearing for Mr. Kamal Nath, it was stated that maximum of Motel shares was owned by family members of Mr. Kamal Nath. It is to be noted that the management of the company took over Motel in the year 1981 and the new lease was signed on 29t September 1981. 

On behalf of Span Motel Pvt Ltd, Mr.B.L Mathur filed an additional counter affidavit and he stated that the Motel was granted for lease for the period of 99 years and an affidavit was annexed with correspondence to Motel and the Government. 

Hon’ble Supreme Court carefully examined the facts and came to the following conclusion,

  • The possession of Motel is part of reserved forest land owned by the State government and the forest area measuring 26 bighas is situated right back of the river. 
  • The land acquired by the 1994 lease deed has a wooden bridge which connects the main Motel through the spill channels. Out of 26 Bighas, 22.2 Bighas of land is acquired only by encroaching the forest area.
  • The Beas River was flooded in the year of 1995 after which the main channel, that is the left side was dredged so that it can prevent the entry of water from the right side of the river, the continuous dredging was done by blasting the big boulders and removing the debris.
  • They blocked the mouth of the natural channel by dumping the boulders and debris and it was brought to notice that the construction of the Motel didn’t take place by expert advice.

The Supreme Court  rejected the contentions of the respondents by stating that the, The Land of Motel which is given for lease by the government is situated at the bank of river Beas and the river Beas is dynamic which tends to change its nature very often. The area where the Motel is located is very weak and thus it should not be converted into private ownership.

Analysis of the Legal Principle applied 

Doctrine of Public Trust 

The Hon’ble Court has applied the Doctrine of Public Trust in the present case. The concept of Doctrine of Public Trust states that the Government holds the trusteeship of certain properties which can be used by the public for free, the common properties such as air, forest, and seashore can be included in this. According to Roman law it was stated that these resources are owned by none or owned by everyone in common. The concept of Doctrine of Public Trust also makes clear that resources such as air, forest and the river, sea shore are gifts of nature. It has a great importance to the public in large so giving private ownership to such property is unjust.

Application of the Principle

Supreme Court stated that, in the present case a protected forest area that is a large river basin was given to Motel Company by the Government of Himachal Pradesh for the Commercial purpose by doing so the Himachal Pradesh Government has done a patent breach of public trust property by giving an ecologically fragile land to the Motel management.

Judgment

The Doctrine of Public Trust is been discussed and there was a patent breach done by the Government of Himachal Pradesh and the Court has also quashed the lease deed and held that the construction carried out by the Motel management is not justified and the Motel management was ordered to pay the compensation for the damage caused by them and to restitute the ecological damage. The court also ordered the pollution control board of the Himachal Pradesh to keep the check whether the untreated effluents are been disposed in to the Beas river and the Court has ordered the same to be noted by the Motel management not dispose the untreated effluents into the river.

Conclusion

The Hon’ble Supreme Court has applied the Doctrine of Public Trust and saved the reserved forest area from private ownership and it also used the doctrine to prevent the land from the executives who take the arbitrary decisions and it has protected the land from future damages by quashing the lease deed of the Motel Management. Thus the Doctrine of Public Trust is used as a great tool to save the environment and also help in sustainable development.

This case brief has been written by Dhaaranee Karunagaran, from Saveetha School of Law.

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