Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Industry-friendly Gujarat government is "not quite keen" on having a green tribunal bench in Ahmedabad

GPCB member-secretary Hardik Shah
By Our Representative
The Gujarat government is in no mood to accept the strong suggestion put forward by a well-attended seminar of senior environmentalists, environmental lawyers, experts and activists for a separate bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Ahmedabad. Called by Gujarat’s premier environmental body, Paryavaran Mitra, the suggestion was put forward by Mahesh Pandya, its director, in the presence of a senior environmental official of the state government, Hardik Shah. “The pollution level of Gujarat industries is very high, one of the highest in India, hence there is reason enough to have an NGT bench in Ahmedabad”, Pandya insisted.
When asked to react, Shah, who also happens to be Gujarat Pollution Control Board member-secretary, told Counterview, “There is already a western zonal bench in Pune. The number of industries in Gujarat is quite less, nearly one-third, that of Maharashtra. That is the reason why one finds that the number of cases filed with the NGT from Gujarat is very small compared to that of Maharashtra. This is enough to suggest as to whether there is a need for a separate NGT office in Gujarat.” Shah did not, however, recall that the tine state of Goa has more than thrice number of cases with NGT compared to Gujarat.
Pandya, on his part, making a strong plea for a separate Gujarat bench of NGT, argued that the very fact that very few cases were being filed at NTG suggests that people, having huge environmental concerns, refuse to go to Pune to go to file cases with NGT, though it was set up about eight months ago. They think the Pune office is quite far and is inaccessible. The Paryavaran Mitra report, “Assessment of the working of NGT”, submitted at the seminar, said, there were just 11 cases from Gujarat before the Pune bench of NGT, as against Maharahstra’s 83 and Goa’s 35.
Pandya said, even as Shah was present, “Few numbers of cases does not suggest that Gujarat is a good performer as far as pollution is concerned, or the GPCB is quite an efficient organization. Things are not so simple. In case there was a bench of NGT in Ahmedabad, we are sure that many more environmental cases against industrial pollution would have been filed.”
Pandya pointed out, “There should be a full-fledged bench in Ahmedabad, as pollution is increasing in Gujarat and there are many chemical industries. One of the reasons why we require a bench in Gujarat is that some people may find it costly to go to Pune so they do not file the case at all. If it was in Gujarat, people would not hesitate to file cases.” He alleged, this is particularly required because the “GPCB is not active.”
Supporting Pandya’s plea, Gujarat high court lawyer Bhushan Oza, who is known to have fought environment-related cases, while recognizing the importance of the NGT, said, “As  a matter of fact, it is a real problem for most people that the only bench for the western zone is in Pune. They cannot go to Pune for their cases and now there is a real demand for a bench in Ahmedabad. It is especially true since Gujarat has experienced considerable industrial development in the past decade.”
In Oza’s view, the problem with the GPCB is that the standards set for implementing environmental norms are quite liberal, which favour the industry. He said, the GPCB norms are such that industry, while implementing a project in Gujarat, “can reach higher pollution levels.” Other speakers participating at the seminar also felt that the state environment department is known to have worked peeking investment, and not environment, as the central focus, instead of for protecting the health of the people who suffer because of environmental pollution.   

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