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MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)

MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)


  • C. Mehta v. Union of India originated in the aftermath of oleum gas leak from Shriram Food and Fertilisers Ltd. complex at Delhi.
  • This gas leak occurred soon after the infamous Bhopal gas leak and created a lot of panic in Delhi. One person died in the incident and few were hospitalized.
  • The case lays down the principle of absolute liability and the concept of deep pockets.


  • Shriram Food and Fertilizer Industry, a subsidiary of Delhi Cloth Mills Limited, was a privately owned company engaged in the manufacturing of caustic chlorine and oleum gas.
  • A writ petition was filed by social activist lawyer M.C Mehta for the closure of Shriram Food and Fertilizer Industry as it was situated in a very densely populated area of Delhi.
  • While the petition was still pending ,on December 4th and 6th 1985, a major leakage of petroleum gas took place from one of the units of Shriram Food and Fertilizers Limited in the heart of the capital city of Delhi which resulted in one death and several health issues.
  • Two orders were issued to shut down the plant on the 7th and 24th of December respectively under the Factories Act (1948) by the Inspector of Factories and the Assistant Commissioner of Factories.  MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)
  • Shriram responded by filing writ petitions of itself (No. 26 of 1986) to nullify the two orders and interim opening of its caustic chlorine plant manufacturing; glycerine, soap, hard oil, etc.
  • On behalf of the gas leak victims the Delhi Legal aid and Advice Board and the Delhi Bar Association filed for compensation along with the original petition of M.C. Mehta and was also pleaded to not allow the closed establishment to restart.

Issues raised

The case was first heard by three judges bench who, in their judgement permitted the reopening of the closed establishment on certain conditions. Considering that the issues are of constitutional importance the case was then referred to a larger bench of five judges.

  • Whether Shriram should be allowed to restart its operation of manufacturing caustic chlorine and oleum which is potentially a health hazard and whether it would be a violation of Article 21 ?
  • What is the measure of liability of an enterprise which is engaged in the manufacturing of a hazardous or inherently dangerous substance which poses potential risk to the health of community at large?
  • Whether Shriram Industry is a ‘state’ and comes under the ambit of Article 12 so as to hold it liable under Article 21?
  • Can compensation from Shriram Industries be claimed under Article 21?  MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)

Judgement | MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)

  • Judgement was delivered on 19th December 1986.
  • Supreme Court decided not to adjudicate on the matter whether compensation should be paid by Shriram Industries under Article 21.
  • They directed Delhi Legal Aid and Advise Board to file a comprehensive action on behalf of all those who claimed to have suffered from this incident before an appropriate court within two months from the date of judgement.
  • It also stated that the amount of compensation should be equal to the magnitude of the harm caused to the community and should also be correlated to the capacity of the Shriram industry so as to have a deterrent effect.
  • The court also instructed Shriram to comply with all the recommendations of the Nilay Choudhary and Manmohan Singh Committees and issued a strict notice that failure to do so will result in the immediate closure of the plant.

Analysis & Conclusion

  • The judgement of the case proved to be significant for the enviro-legal cases to come as it produced several important stances which are celebrated even today.
  • The Supreme Court took a proactive role in the disposal of the case and made sure that the Fundamental rights of the people are not violated, by giving wide connotation to Right to life under Article 21.
  • It was important for the Court to address the concerns raised after the judgement of Bhopal Gas tragedy, which came just a year ago, to reinstate their faith of the country in the system of judiciary.
  • It was felt necessary to have such a strong judgement to ensure the public that industries will be held absolutely liable for their actions and will be punished for jeopardizing the life of the community.  MC Mehta and Union Of India (1986)



Indian Polity

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