Some important cases

• Sanitation in Ratlam: In a landmark judgement in 1980, the Supreme Court explicitly recognised the impact of a deteriorating urban environment on the poor. It linked basic public health facilities to human rights and compelled the municipality to provide proper sanitation and drainage. However, according to numerous reports, little has changed in Ratlam today.

• Doon valley quarrying: In 1987, the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, on the behalf of residents of the Doon valley, filed a case in the Supreme Court against limestone quarrying. This case was the first requiring the Supreme Court to balance environmental and ecological integrity against industrial demands on forest resources. The courts directed the authorities to stop quarrying in the Mussoorie hills, but today, mining continues unchecked in the interior valleys.

• Gas leak in Shriram factory: In the historic case of the oleum gas leak from the Shriram Food and Fertiliser factory in Delhi, in 1986, the Supreme Court ordered the management to pay compensation to the victims of the gas leak. The "absolute liability" of a hazardous chemical manufacturer to give compensation to all those affected by an accident was introduced in this case and it was the first time compensation was paid to victims.

• Construction in Silent Valley: In 1980, the Kerala High Court threw out a writ filed by the Society for the Protection of the Silent Valley seeking a ban on construction of a hydro-electric project in the valley. However, despite an unfavourable judgement, active lobbying and grassroots action by environmentalists stopped the project.

• Polluting the Ganga: In 1985, activist-advocate M C Mehta filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court to highlight the pollution of the Ganga by industries and municipalities located on its banks. In a historic judgement in 1987, the court ordered the closure of a number of polluting tanneries near Kanpur. Justice E S Venkataramiah, in his judgement, observed: "Just like an industry which cannot pay minimum wages to its workers cannot be allowed to exist, a tannery which cannot set up a primary treatment plant cannot be permitted to continue to be in existence."

• Pollution in Bichhri: Effluents from an H-acid factory in Bichhri village in Rajasthan has polluted the ground water of almost 60 wells, destroying crops and orchards. A case was filed in the Supreme Court by the Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action in October 1989. Despite court orders in March 1990 to remove the sludge from the factory, not only does the sludge still pollute Bichhri's drinking water, but no compensation has been paid to the residents either.

• Mining in Sariska: A writ petition was filed in the Supreme Court in 1991 by the Tarun Bharat Sangh to stop mining in the Sariska wildlife sanctuary. The court banned mining in the sanctuary, but mining continues nevertheless.