Vellore Citizens Welfare Forums v. Union of India

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Pollution, in whatever way, whether it is air, water, land or noise is damaging to the atmosphere. Often Industries tend to contaminate the air that we inhale, which causes health issues like asthma etc. Governments have to make ideal arrangements for prevention of environmental problems and implementation of environmental laws.

Various laws have been made in India for the safety of the environment. The Indian Penal Code, the code of Criminal Procedure, the tort law, the Environment Protection Act etc.

The Legal Right to Pollution Permitted Environment was different to be a percentage of Right to Life under Article 21[1] of the Indian Constitution if there should be an existence of Subhash Kumar v. Province of Bihar and Ors[2]. Right of Life is a Fundamental Right which joins the advantage of enjoyment in violation of free water and air for full contentment for the period of regular day to day being.

Climate change may sound to be today’s process but it has been for years. Nowadays we can see live examples like in Australia the fire in forest due to extreme heat and Conditions as well as fire in Uttarakhand and not just this but also the number of natural calamities have increased every year and temperature has increased by almost 5 degree Celsius[3]. These are bad signs for the entire world and still seem to be unsolved by the people.

The true details for wildlife exploitation are present-day development, mechanization, over-population growth, deforestation and pollution and so forth. Ecological pollution suggests the degradation of value and the quantity of normal possessions present in the earth. Different human exercises are the essential reasons for condition corruption.

In the previous 65 years because of additional withdrawal from the natural resource’s environment, degradation has remained at its peak. It is a known fact that environmental degradation has a direct result on the well-being of living beings. We at this time are only left with a few places where pollution is less. Human activities are the eventual driver of environmental degradation. Contrary impacts happen from dirty water, outdoor and indoor air pollution; deforestation causes soil corrosion and natural disasters which claim millions of demises every year. Urban air pollution has grown in the last few decades is alarming. 

This case also has mentioned about the problems about the adverse effects of environment and how the environmental degradation is affecting various lives 

Facts of the Case

In the following case[4], the petition was filed by the Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution[5], on almost 900 tanneries and other specific leather producing industries across the five districts of Tamil Nadu that Vellore Forum managed. The Petitioners stated that these tanneries used almost 170 types of toxic chemicals in the chrome thrashing system along with almost 35 litres of water for working 1 kilogram of finished leather. Due to this process, large amounts of toxic effluents started going into the Palar river. Palar River was not just a river but also the main livelihood of the people living near the river. The petition mentioned that almost 35,000 hectares of land used for agriculture near the tanneries was mentioned fully or partially unsuitable for planting, according to a self-sufficient survey taken by the Peace Members, i.e. a non-governmental organization. They stated that 350 wells out of 467 used for drinking and irrigation were polluted, which resulted in the most significant deprivation and depression for the people who were dependent upon them. In one of the valuable reports given by the Legal Aid and Advice Board of Tamil Nadu, it was declared that these tanneries were permitted to work as they comprised almost 80% of the complete export leather generation in India. Significantly it gave a contribution to the foreign exchange earner as well. 

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board[6] had provided them with a choice to either introduce common effluent nursing plants or personal pollution control systems. According to the Central Government Guidelines, which mentioned the same, but none of this was necessary. The case was looked at further by the Court of law as one of the landmark judgements that interconnected the relationship of environment and industries.


The main issue before the Apex Court was to choose whether these tanneries should be permitted to pursue work at the cost of severe damage to the environment and affected people’s livelihood.

Arguments of Petitioner

As a representative of the Vellore Forum, the Learned Counsel was very protective about the importance of the Environment. The Petitioner stated that the entire region and sub-soil water of river Palar have been intoxicated. Consequently, it has rounded out to be non-accessible for consumption to the inhabitants living in that region. The Petitioner mentions that the tanneries in the State of Tamil Nadu have brought rise to the erosion of the Environment in the area. The Petitioner managed to submit the independent survey conducted by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Research Center Vellore. Almost 35,000 hectares of agricultural land in this Belt have become either partially or fully undesirable for cultivation. It has been further mentioned in the petition that these tanneries use about 170 types of chemicals in chrome tanning processes, including chloride, lime, sodium sulphate, chlorium sulphate sulphuric acid dyes, which are used in large amounts. Apart from this, almost 35 litres of water is used for making one kilogram of end leather, resulting in the formation of harmful and vast quantities of toxic effluents being taken out in the free air by the tanning industry. As the wells were so polluted, the nearby living children and women used to walk miles to fetch the needs. The Petitioner prays before the Court of Law to close down the tanneries as many lives are being compromised because of the functioning of these tanneries.

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Arguments of Respondent 

On behalf of the Tanneries representing the Vellore Forum, the Learned Counsel argued very satisfactorily regarding not accepting the Petitioner’s prayer. The Respondent raised an issue that the quality of the Total Dissolved solids (TDS) decided by the Board was not justified, and it was not rational. They said that the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) encompassing the water have physiological, industrial and financial importance.

The Respondent also stated that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MEF) has not explicitly stated the inland region standards where the water discharges for total dissolved solids (TDS), sulphates and chlorides. The Judgement of these standards rests with the State Pollution Control Boards based on local site situations. The quality decided by the TNPCB is justified on the specified considerations. This Court, by pursuing another appeal dated April 9, 1996, synchronized the NEERI to scrutinize the view and offer its input. Through its report, NEERI has legalized the models directed by the Board. The rule mentioned by TNPCB for inland region water release is met for tannery squander waters cost-viably through relevant restriction of gauges in tanning activity and typically structured and viably worked wastewater treatment plants (ETPs and CETPs).

Summary of Judgement 

Through this case, the Court held that question with this present Court’s Order on April 9, 1996; they heard a piece of professional information pointing on the tanneries that are to be closed as distant as the above Court has asked. It has been conveyed to the Court of Law that some tanneries had fixed up singular pollution control devices. In each case, despite this device, they were asked to be closed. Another news that has been produced before them is that a piece of the tanneries is linked with CETP’s and as well as set up their pollution control devices. Several irregularities have been drawn to our notice regarding the increase in pollution. Although, in any situation, we have performed to include a proper strategy to welcome these tanneries on rails. 

We interpret that no tannery will be permitted to open again except if this Court accomplishes that these tanneries have set up the necessary pollution control devices separately or fully. For that reason, we need to rely upon the appeal offered by Technical Specialists like the Pollution Control Boards or NEERI[7]. The Court organized the Central Pollution Control Board and the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to evaluate the region’s war-balance.

The tanneries, either straightforwardly or by professional perspicacity, may request the Pollution Control Boards or prove somehow that their units have constructed the virtual pollution devices. We manage these boards’ conduct who are worried to examine the Units immediately and proofread the article in this context before May 6, 1996. Furthermore, the Court adjusted that all of those sections that are not, consequently, to evolve the emerging prescription devices within this limit may proceed to the Board when they perform the games. The North Arcot District and Chennai MGR District Association, and different Tanners associations will manage the review groups’ cost sorted by the Boards.

After analyzing the report, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment setting forth all efforts to keep up a concordance among situation and development. The Court acknowledged that these Tanneries in India are the primary foreign exchange earners and give many individuals jobs. At the same time, it destroys nature and expresses a wellbeing danger to everybody. While giving its judgment in the Petitioner’s souvenir, the Court guided all the Tanneries to present a whole of Rs. 10,000 as fair in the Collector’s office. The Court also coordinated the State of Tamil Nadu to grant Mr. M. C. Mehta donated an entire Rs. 50,000 as gratitude towards his endeavors for the security of the Environment.

The Court right now underscored Green Benches’ constitution in India, managing matters identifying with environment protection and fast and agile departure of environmental lawsuits. 

Analysis of the case

As I would see it explicitly, the Environment Act includes significant rules for controlling pollution. I accept that the Act’s primary motivation is to control or authority under Section 3(3) of the said Act[8] with adequate power to manage contamination and secure the Climate. It is a misfortune that, till date, no administration comprising the Central Government has been able to solve environmental problems. The work expected to be completed by a professional as distant as Section 3(3) read with various rules of the Act is being performed by the Apex Court and the country’s additional suites. The break has already come and passed, and the Central Government needs to understand its responsibility and statutory commitment to defend the nation’s debasing Environment. Assume the situations in the five regions of Tamil Nadu where tanneries are running and are permitted to proceed sooner rather than waiting for all streams/waterways to get contaminated. In that case, underground waters get tainted, seeing horticultural grounds turned downcast and the territory’s occupants presented to genuine infections. 

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It is, consequently, essential for this Court to guide the Central Government to make a timely motion under the Environment Act rules. The Constitutional and legal rules defend an individual’s requirement to breathe natural air, clean water, and live in a pollution-free environment. However, the opportunity source is the actual usage based on the individual’s fundamental right to live in a clean environment. More than 900 tanneries are working in the five areas of Tamil Nadu, while only a few of them may, at this point, have included significant pollution control measures. They have been polluting the Environment for more than ten years now and again in any circumstance, for a more drawn-out term. This Court has, in different demands, illustrated that these tanneries are committed to paying contamination fines. The polluters must repay the influenced people and pay the price of re-establishing the depreciated nature.


In this case, the Court took an absolutist procedure, i.e. the Court held that any exercise considered dangerous to the Environment should be discontinued quickly. The Court did not take into account the opportunity cost to stop such activity. As reviewed earlier, there have been several instances where the Court relied on the careful principle to decide. For example, in the case of Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy v. the Union of India[9], the Court held that careful precautions are a part of the usage. The ships possessing deadly essence cannot be dismantled without considering the careful principle. Moreover, in the case of MC Mehta v. Union of India, the Taj Trapezium Matter, there was a need for protecting the Taj Mahal from getting polluted by the industries in the vicinity. The Court applying the prudent opinion held that the commerce must substitute coal with natural gas as the factory combustible; however, the Court did acknowledge no scientific possibility, whether the primary source of the Taj Mahal’s reduction was the contamination generated by the industries or anything else.

The Indian courts have also substituted the burden of proof on these enterprises to demonstrate that their activities are not reducing the Climate. The low utilization of the principle is bound to disappoint, as the entire issue is misunderstood. This case has been influential in the construction of polluter pay and the precautionary principle. It was within this case that these principles were moreover settled into the country’s environment statute. The Supreme Court realized the requirement of these matters to be addressed about environmental damage and, therefore, granted compensation to the parties and created a reserve towards reversing the damage already done. There’s no skepticism that the Apex court has been useful in developing the country’s environmental status. It would not be an extensive statement to state that Indian Environmental Law, in its real spirit, owes its source to the Judicial Activism of Indian Courts. The tanneries are major agents of pollution of rivers and other water sources and are also annoying sources of public nuisance.

However, environmental difficulties are multi-faceted and complicated. There is no deficiency of law on environment protection in India. Therefore, what has preferably been urged by people across all conferences is the need for efficient and adequate implementation of these laws. Therefore, the implementation of these laws in various places across the country is the need of the hour. It must be an essential partner in elevating environment leadership and developing the Environment. The notions of Judges in developed countries like the USA are to understand that only one potential method is by formulating the Environment Courts and incentivizing the officials towards environment protection. This case has been seen as an appropriate precedent for all the people whose lives have been affected because of environmental pollution. 

[1] The Constitution of India, 1949, Article 21.

[2] Subhash Kumar v. Province of Bihar and Ors, 1991 AIR 420.

[3] Tara Law, Australia’s Wildfires and Climate Change Are Making One Another Worse in a Vicious, Devastating Circle, 7th January 2020, 

[4] Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union Of India & Ors,1996 AIR 2715.

[5] The Constitution of India, 1949, Article 32.

[6] The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Annual Report, 2004-2005,

[7] M.C. Mehta And Anr vs Union Of India & Ors, 1987 AIR 1086.

[8] The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, s. 3(3).

[9] Research Foundation For Science v Union Of India And Others,Writ Petition (civil) 657 of 1995.