August 3, 2021

Public Trust Doctrine (Environmental Law)

Concept of Trust:

In the Common Law jurisprudence, a trust is ‘the legal relationship between one person having an just possession in property and another person owning the legal title to such property.’ consequently, within the context of the general public Trust belief, the legal title is unconditional within the state and therefore the just title within the public. Thus, the state is accountable as trustee to manage the property within the interest of the general public.

Doctrine of Public Trust- simplified

Resources like air, sea, waters and therefore the forests have nice importance to the individuals as a full that it might be wrong to create such resources a subject matter of personal possession.

Natural resources being a present of nature, ought to be freely out there to everybody regardless of the standing in life.

The belief enjoins upon the govt to safeguard the resources for the enjoyment of the final public instead of to allow their use for personal possession or industrial functions

Public at massive is that the beneficiary and therefore the State as a trustee is beneath a responsibility to safeguard the natural resources.

The Origins of the general public Trust belief

o The origins of the belief will be derived back to Roman times. per the Institutes of Justinian I, ‘by the law of nature, these items square measure common to group the air, running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the ocean.’ However, Roman principles of acquisition of property were supported the premise of abundance. Nowadays, thanks to the insufficiency of resources the idea of charitable trust relies on ecological interdependency.

o In European nation, this idea seems within the common law, notably through the writings of Bracton and Flecta, England’s Magna Charta, and comment by Blackstone. These sources square measure cited as precedent for the notions of common rights to navigation and fishing.

o In USA the landmark case Illinois Central Railway Co. v. Illinois[1] it absolutely was recognized by the Supreme Court of u. s. that title to the land control publicly trust will solely be granted, once the grant doesn’t impair the general public interest or wherever the grant improved the general public trust.

The Public trust belief serves the subsequent purposes:

ü it mandates affirmative state action for effective management of resources and

ü empowers voters to question ineffective management of natural resources.

ü as leverage throughout policy deliberations and public scoping sessions and hearings

ü employed by the courts as a tool to safeguard the setting from several varieties of degradation.

Prof. J.L. Sax and therefore the charitable trust belief

Prof. Joseph L. Sax, academic of Law, University of Michigan was one among the best proponents of the fashionable charitable trust belief.

According to faculty member. Sax, whose article specifically “The charitable trust belief in resource Law: Effective Judicial Intervention”, Michigan Law Review, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Jan. 1970) pp.471-566][2] on this subject is taken into account to be an authority, 3 sorts of restrictions on governmental authority square measure typically thought to be obligatory by the general public trust doctrine:

1. the property subject to the trust should not solely be used for a public purpose, however it should be control out there to be used by the final public;

2. the property might not be oversubscribed, even for honest money equivalent;

3. the property should be maintained for explicit sorts of use

(i) either ancient uses, or (ii) some uses explicit to it type of resources.”

The belief of charitable trust in India

The Public Trust belief has its origins in legal code. it’s been extended in recent years, putting a requirement on the state to carry environmental resources in trust for the advantage of the general public. At its widest, it may well be employed by the courts as a tool to safeguard the setting from several varieties of degradation. In some countries, the belief has fashioned the idea of environmental policy legislation, permitting personal rights of action by voters for violations by the state (directly or indirectly) of the general public trust.

The Rule of Law runs near to the rule of life and therefore the Indian Constitution, in its humanist vision, has created environmental-ecological preservation a basic price. the upper jurisprudence of Article twenty one of the Constitution (right to life) embraces the protection and preservation of nature’s gift while not that life ceases to be viable and human rights become a simulacrum. In alternative words, this right to life beneath article twenty one has been extended to incorporate the proper to a healthy setting and therefore the right to bread and butter. The third side of the proper to life is that the application of charitable trust belief to safeguard and preserve the general public land. once the Indian courts have applied the general public trust belief, they need thought of it not solely as a world law idea, but one, that is well established in their national system.

Accepting charitable trust belief as a locality of common law, the Indian courts have applied this expressly in 3 recent cases, the primary one in 1997 and 2 cases in 1999, together with the case into consideration. Articles 48A and 51A of the Constitution[3] conjointly furnish the principles of jurisprudence, that square measure basic to our governance beneath the Rule of Law.

The belief is initial mentioned in M.C. Mehta v Kamal Nath (1997) 1 SCC 388 [4]The regime of H.P. granted lease of bank forestland to a non-public The regime of H.P. granted lease of bank forestland to a non-public company for industrial purpose. the aim of the lease was to create a motor lodge at the bank of the watercourse Beas. A report titled “Kamal Nath dares the mighty Beas to stay his dreams afloat “published in an exceedingly national newspaper alleged that the tourist court management interfered with the natural flow of the stream so as to divert its course and to save lots of the tourist court from future floods. The Supreme Court initiated suo motu action supported the news article.

The Supreme Court expressed that the general public Trust school of thought primarily rests on the principle that bound resources like air, sea, waters and forests have such nice importance to the folks as a full that it’d be unreasonable to create them an issue of personal possession. The court determined that: As rivers, forests, minerals and such alternative resources represent a nation’s natural wealth. These resources don’t seem to be to be frittered away and exhausted by anybody generation. each generation owes a requirement to any or all succeeding generations to develop and conserve the natural resources of the state within the absolute best method. it’s within the interest of grouping. it’s within the interest of the state. Thus, the general public Trust school of thought could be a a part of the law of the land.

In the second case M.I. Builders v Radhey Shyam Sahu AIR 1996 SC 2468[5] The Lucknow Municipal Corporation granted permission to a personal builder to construct Associate in Nursing underground searching advanced that was against the Municipal Act and program of the town of Lucknow.

The Supreme Court control that the Municipal Corporation, as a trustee for the correct management of the park, needs to be a lot of cautious in handling its properties. The Court additional that land of Brobdingnagian price had been bimanual over thereto to construct Associate in Nursing underground searching advanced in violation of the general public trust school of thought. the upkeep of the park, due to its historical importance and environmental necessity, was in itself a public purpose. additionally, the Municipal Corporation had desecrated the general public Trust school of thought and also the Court ordered the demolition of the unauthorized searching advanced.

In the third case Mrs. Susetha v. State of Madras & Ors AIR 2006 SC 2893 [6]This dispute involves a temple tank in a very village close to Thoraipakkam on OMR. The aforesaid tank was lying in neglect and was abandoned. The panchayet took a call of constructing a searching advanced for the aim transfer of these persons UN agency were displaced because of growth of the road. The State of Madras conjointly issued a Government Order allowing constructions of a searching advanced in that.

This is Associate in Nursing articulation of the school of thought from the angle of the affirmative duties of the State with reference to charitable trust. developed from a negatory angle, the school of thought doesn’t specifically command the alienation of the property control as a charitable trust. What was stressed was the next degree of judicial scrutiny.

The development of the school of thought of property development could be a welcome feature however whereas action the requirement of ecological impact, a fragile balance between it and also the necessity for development should be affected. Whereas it’s inconceivable to ignore inter-generational interest, it’s conjointly inconceivable to ignore the dire would like that the society desperately needs.


The school of thought of charitable trust could be a extremely useful gizmo within the hands our Judiciary to safeguard and preserve the setting from the arbitrary and unreasonable actions of the governmental authorities. recently the influence of personal actors (corporate bodies) is increasing globally, there square measure high probabilities of misuse of the natural resources or grant of those resources in favour of personal players by the governments. In such cases the school of thought of charitable trust would work as an efficient check of the exercise of power by government with reference to dealings and management of natural resources.

[1] Illinois Central Railway Co. v. Illinois

[2] Michigan Law Review, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Jan. 1970) pp.471-566][2]

[3] Art 48 and article 51

[4] M.C. Mehta v Kamal Nath (1997) 1 SCC 388

[5] M.I. Builders v Radhey Shyam Sahu AIR 1996 SC 2468

[6] Mrs. Susetha v. State of Madras & Ors AIR 2006 SC 2893

Author Details: Rishabh Gupta

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)


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