Introduction to the Issue
The Taj Mahal, a mausoleum built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz, is an architectural spectacle and also one of the wonders of the world. It is also a major tourist attraction of India. However, in the recent past, the monument’s white marble was observed to be changing colour and turning yellow. According to environmentalists, the main cause of the marble’s deterioration are the numerous factories in Agra that are causing high levels of suspended particulate matter, with a mixture of factory emissions, vehicle exhaust, dust and construction material.
In addition to this, the dropping water tables and the pollution of the river Yamuna that runs alongside the Taj has led to a drop in the underground water level by four metres over recent years. According to a local activist, “The levels are much lower than they were when it was built and there is a serious risk that the whole construction will be destabilized as its foundations are made of wood and need to be kept moist to avoid subsiding.” This is because ebony, the wood used in the foundation of the Taj, has an infinite life in water, yet it corrodes within five years if not in water.
In the year 1984, an environmental lawyer named M.C. Mehta filed a case before the Supreme Court regarding the negligence of the Taj’s decay. The petitioner sought appropriate directions to the authorities concerned to take immediate steps to stop air pollution in the TTZ and save the Taj.
In this case, the court interpreted Article 21 (right to life) so as to include the right to a healthy environment. Keeping in mind the world-heritage site status of the monument, and also the health of the citizens around it, the court mandated environmental measures in order to protect the Taj Mahal. Under this, it prescribed an area known as the Taj Trapeze Zone (TTZ), an area of 10,400 square kilometres where industrial activity is limited.
Additionally, the petition filed by M.C. Mehta also requested the invocation of the Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act 1981 and Water (prevention and control of pollution) Act 1974 and Environment Protection Act 1986 for the relocation of the industries in this area.
The court declared that the atmospheric pollution in TTZ had to be eliminated at any cost, and held that the Precautionary Principle and the Polluter Pays Principle are part of the environmental law of the country. Since it had been proven beyond doubt that the emissions generated by the use of coke and coal by the industries in TTZ was the major contributor to the air pollution in the region, the court ordered 292 industries in that region to switch to Natural Gas as an industrial fuel by 30th June 1997, beyond which the supply of coke to the region would be stopped. The court also stated that the industries that were unable to make the shift in fuel would be forced to relocate after this.
Considering the fact that another major cause for air...