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M.C. Mehta v. Kamal Nath, (1997) 1 SCC 388


  • Whether the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ is applicable in India?
  • Whether construction undertaken by Span Motels Pvt Ltd. is legally justified?
  • Whether Mr. Kamal Nath was wrongly accused?


  • The Public Trust Doctrine first used in Indian jurisprudence in this case states that certain natural resources which have a great significance to the public because of which these resources being privately owned is wholly unjustified. These resources are held in trust by the State and not to be commercially exploited, and the State has a duty to protect the sanctity of nature. Article 21 and 32 of the Constitution extend to natural resources for the purpose of protecting the ecosystem.
  • The Precautionary Principle and Polluter Pays Principle, which originated in the OSPAR Convention, sets its crux in the prevention and protection of the environment and health of the people. The burden of proof, which lies on the developer must ensure that the absolute liability for harm extends to compensate the victims as well as restore environmental degradation.


  • ‘Span Motels Pvt Ltd’, a private company which was controlled by the owners of Span Resorts curated and built a new club, “Span Club” on the bank of River Beas.
  • The “Indian Express” published an article headlined “Kamal Nath defies the powerful Beas to keep his dreams floating” which revealed issues with the Clubs’ development.
  • After the piece was published, it was discovered that the then Minister of Environment and Forests, Mr. Kamal Nath had direct connection with the establishment of the Club.
  • Vide letter dated November 24, 1993, the Ministry of Environment and Forests released prior consent to the company leasing 27.12 ‘bighas’ of additional forest land, which gave the owners of Span Resorts permission to build the Club which led to overrunning of the river.
  • Due to pressure from the bulldozers and other equipment used to construct heavy embankments, it led to washing away of the adjoining lawns.
  • A flood caused by the Beas River in 1995 then destroyed property worth Rs. 105 crores.


  • The Apex Court by virtue of one primary principle, being “Public Trust Doctrine” held that the doctrine should be included in the law of the land.
  • The Court also rejected the prior approval granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the lease instrument in favor of access to 27.12. bighas of land.
  • The Court highlighted the duty of the Himachal Pradesh Government to take cognizance and return the land to its natural state.
  • The Court also ordered Span Resorts to pay for all environment and ecological restitution settlements under the Polluter Pays principle.
  • The Court ordered the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to investigate the pollution control strategies, for which the Hotel was bound to create 4-meter boundary wall, beyond which access to the river basin was not permitted. The Hotel was ordered not to use even a portion of the river’s basin for any purposes.
  • The Hotel was prohibited from dumping sewage into the river, and the Board was ordered by the Court to inspect all hotels and institutions in the said Kullu – Manali area, where strict action was compelled to be taken against those who are releasing untreated sewage into the river.
  • Finally, the Court directed the Hotel to give an explanation as to why an extra-pollution fee was not mandated, the documents of which were to be submitted and enlisted by December 18 1996.