In an order passed recently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has asked that "meaningful action" be taken against polluters in polluting industrial clusters identified earlier this year.
Directions in this regard have been issued to Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs). Further, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has also been instructed to submit a report based on the action taken against the polluter companies.
In December last year, the NGT had directed the PCBs and PCCs to finalize a time bound action plan to bring all the Polluted Industrial Areas (PIAs) within safe parameters as per the statutory requirements. A report was thereafter compiled by the CPCB describing the pollution parameters in 100 PIAs.
The CPCB prepared a tabular list to evaluate the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) of these areas, took into consideration factors such as nature of pollutants, ambient pollutant concentrations, receptors (number of people affected) and additional high risk element in major cities. The areas were ranked as ‘critically polluted area’ (CPA), ‘severely polluted area’ (SPA) and ‘other polluted areas’ (OPAs).
Many places of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana and Jkarkhand were included in the list based on their CEPI scores. Tarapur in Maharashtra had the highest CEPI score of 93.69, making it the most polluted industrial area in India. Najafgarh-Drain basin in Delhi had a score of 92.65 and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh had a score of 91.10.
This report was handed over to the NGT in July this year. After examining the report, the Principal Bench of the NGT, headed by Chairperson AK Goel had cited the polluter pays principle to call for initiating prosecution against and recovering compensation from the polluters, apart from stopping the polluting activities. Its earlier order observed that once areas are classified as polluting, action plans must be prepared and the “polluting activity” should be discontunied as it as criminal offence. As observed by the NGT in that order,
"The essence of rule of law is that no activity which is against the law is allowed to continue and the person violating the law is punished according to law. Thus merely requiring improvement does not obviate the need for punishing the law violators/polluters; stopping polluting activity and recovering compensation for the damage already caused so as to recover the cost of restoration is the mandate of law.
This having not been done, the Tribunal is under a duty to direct the statutory regulators to perform their functions and take steps forthwith for stopping polluting activities, initiating prosecutions against the polluters and assessing and recovering compensation from such identified polluters at least for five years which is the period specified under Section 15(3) of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010."
The NGT had added that, not taking action against polluters may be “failure of rule of law” and “breach of trust reposed in statutory authorities”
A status report was thereafter was submitted to the NGT earlier this month. While perusing this action taken report, the Court took note that its focus was primarily on pollution mitigation measures. In view of this, the NGT remarked that such measures should be accompanied by penal action as well. As stated in the order dated November 14 2019,
"... while every mitigation measures must be taken, this cannot be ground not to take any legal action for violation of law. The status report does not refer to compliance of directions for taking coercive measures for enforcement of the Air Act, the Water Act, and the EPA Act by prohibiting operation of polluting activities and assessing and recovering compensation on ‘Polluter Pays’ principle, including interim compensation of which scale was specified in the said order."
Therefore, the NGT has now directed the CPCB to coordinate with all State PCBs/PCCs and point out where the action is not being taken by required statutory authorities against polluters.
The tribunal also asked the Board to compile information with regard to PIAs based on water pollution norms, air pollution norms and other norms separately and to bring the same to the notice of the public. This report is to be submitted by January 31, 2020. A tabulated analysis of the same is to be submitted by February 15, 2020.
Notably, the NGT has forewarned that, on default of submission of data, action would be taken against Chairmen and the Member Secretaries of the State PCBs and PCCs.
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