In the present case the Petitioner- Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum, filed a PIL under Article 32 of the Constitution. The Petition was filed against the water pollution caused due to excessive release of pollutants by the tanneries and other industries in the State of Tamil Nadu into the river Palar. Palar River was the main source of water for the livelihood of the surrounding people. Later, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Research Centre, Vellore discovered that approximately 35,000 hectares of agricultural land has turned either entirely or partially barren and not fit for cultivation. This is one of the landmark cases whereby the Supreme Court critically analyzed the relationship between environment and industrial development.

Issue Raised

Whether the tanneries should be permitted to keep on working at the expense of the health of individuals and the environment?

Arguments from the Parties


The Learned Counsel of the Petitioner argued that the whole surface and sub-soil water of river Palar has been intoxicated and as a result, it has turned out non-accessible for consumption to the inhabitants of the region. They further contended that the tanneries in the State of Tamil Nadu have caused serious damage to the environment in the region. A study conducted by a non-administrative association, covering 13 towns of Dindigul and Peddiar Chatram Anchayat Unions, uncovers that 350 wells out of an aggregate of 467 wells used for drinking and water system purposes have been contaminated.


The advocates from the side of the tanneries argued that the quality concerning Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) fixed by the Board wasn’t legitimized. This Court by the request dated April 9, 1996, coordinated the NEERI to examine this angle and offer its input. In its report, NEERI has legitimized the models stipulated by the Board. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has not completely set down models for inland surface water release for Total Dissolved Solids, sulphates, and chlorides. the selection on these guidelines rests with the individual State Pollution Control Boards in line with the prerequisites supported nearby site conditions. The rules stipulated by Tamil Nadu Pollution Board Control (TNPCB)  have been advocated. The principle endorsed of the TNPCB for inland surface water release is met for tannery squander waters cost-viably through appropriate embed control gauges in tanning activity, and normally structured and viably worked wastewater treatment plants (ETPs and CETPs).


The Supreme Court after hearing both the parties and examining the report ruled making all efforts to maintain a harmony between environment and development. The Court observed that these Tanneries are the major foreign exchange earner to the country and also provide employment to several people. But at the same time, it harms the environment and poses a health hazard to everyone. The Court ruled in favour of Petitioners and directed all the Tanneries to deposit a sum of rupees ten thousand in the office of Collector as fine. The Court further directed the State of Tamil Nadu to award Mr M. C. Mehta with a sum of Rupees Fifty thousand as a token of appreciation towards his efforts in protecting the environment. The Hon’ble Supreme Court also made it a point to emphasize on the formation of green benches in dealing with matters related to the protection of the environment.

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