MC Mehta vs Union of India

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Apr 11, 2022, 8:23

The 1985 MC Mehta vs Union of India is a case of Oleum Gas Leakage from Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd. that occurred in Delhi. Its similarity to Bhopal Gas Tragedy is one of the reasons for its increased awareness and importance.

The MC Mehta vs Union of India case played an instrumental role in environmental advocacy and establishing the principle of Absolute Liability.

MC Mehta vs Union of India - Background

Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd., a Delhi-based privately owned fertilizer plant, was located in the city's thickly populated area of Kirti Nagar, which was home to approximately 200,000 people. Owing to the factory's chemical processes, it emitted hazardous substances that caused a public nuisance. MC Mehta, a public interest attorney, filed a writ petition under Articles 21 and 32 to the Supreme Court on December 4 and 6, 1985, seeking closure and relocation of the factory's Shriram Caustic Chlorine and Sulphuric Acid Plant.

During the pending lawsuit, the Oleum Gas Leak incident occurred at one of the factory's plants that caused severe harm to people who inhaled the gas. The leakage also took the life of one of the lawyers who practised in the Tis Hazari Court.

The leakage incident caused the factory to collapse, two days after which another minor incident of oleum gas leakage occurred at the site.

The Delhi Magistrate took immediate action as per sub-section (1) of Section 133. The issue ordered Shriram Food and Fertiliser to shut down the manufacturing of lethal substances, including Chlorine, Super Chlorine, Oleum, Phosphate, etc.

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The Judgement in the MC Mehta vs Union of India

In the MC Mehta vs Union of India, the Supreme Court of India initiated the ‘Absolute Liability Principle' stating that in the case of industries like Shriram that are engaged in inherently dangerous activities, the rule of absolute liability will be applied, i.e., any industry involved in hazardous activities that causes harm to the environment or the people through any accident would be held absolutely liable.

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Importance of the MC Mehta vs Union of India

The MC Mehta vs Union of India case is one of the important cases of environmental advocacy. Until the MC Mehta vs Union of India case, the rule of Strict Liability in Ryland v. Fletcher was applied. Based on this principle, the industry owner or operator would be liable for any inherently hazardous acts on their property. However, the principle of Strict Liability had several defences and limited exceptions, including the Defence of ‘Act of God.'

With the advancement of technology and industrialization, hazardous substances and gases have increased manifold, posing a greater threat to the environment. Therefore, in the Oleum Gas Leakage case, the principle of Strict Liability was replaced with Absolute Liability.

The MC Mehta vs Union of India is an essential chapter in the history of the Indian Judiciary as, for the first time, the Supreme Court held a company completely responsible for the gas leakage, irrespective of its defence and claimed loss. Furthermore, the case set an example in laying strict security measures for all industries.

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FAQs on MC Mehta vs Union of India

Q.1. Who is MC Mehta from the MC Mehta vs Union of India?

Mahesh Chander Mehta, popularly known as MC Mehta from the MC Mehta vs Union of India, is a public interest attorney known as India's green lawyer.

Q.2. What was the primary demand in the MC Mehta vs Union of India?

MC Mehta filed a petition and ordered the closure and relocation of the Shriram Caustic Chlorine and Sulphuric Acid Plant in Delhi's populated Kirti Nagar was the primary demand in the MC Mehta vs Union of India.

Q.3. Which incident caused the MC Mehta vs Union of India?

The emission of hazardous gases and substances from Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd. in Delhi's populated area and the leakage of Oleum gas from one of its plants led to a writ petition to the Supreme Court in 1985 which caused the MC Mehta vs Union of India.

Q.4. Why is MC Mehta vs Union of India important?

The MC Mehta vs Union of India initiated the principle of ‘Absolute Liability for the first time.

5. Where was MC Mehta vs Union of India held?

The MC Mehta vs Union of India case was held in the Supreme Court of India under Chief Justice P.N. Bhagwati.