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National Green Tribunal thinks the "polluter pays" principle should be applied selectively on industrial units

By Our Representative
Does the National Green Tribunal (NGT) believe that the well-known polluters pay principle should be applied in exceptional cases only? It would seem so, if a recent judgment it delivered is any guide. Giving its order in a case filed by Gujarat’s environmental body, Paryavaran Mitra, against Hanjer Biotech Energies Pvt Ltd (HBEPL), contracted to dispose of solid waste by the Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC), the NGT has reluctantly said the principle be applied on HBEPL. In an order delivered on December 20, it said it believes that the “polluter pays principle” ought to be applied in “peculiar circumstances” alone.
Interestingly, the NGT’s view has come when Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) has filed public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court (click HERE) asking the latter to ensure strict implementation of the “polluter pays principle”, even as demanding that industrial polluters should pay back all the subsidies provided by the various governments to control pollution. The apex court has issued notice to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, and chief secretaries of 19 states seeking their response in the matter.
India’s premier quasi-judicial body NGT’s apparent soft attitude towards a party which it declared polluter has come despite the fact that it has accused the HBEPL for failing to take “proper precaution for maintenance of landfill site” and “aggravating the problem of threat to the environment”. It had added, “Inspections carried out from time to time indicated that the contractor had not arranged for proper leachate collection and treatment facilities”.
The NGT observed that the landfill site was “partly covered with plastic sheet”, that there “the excess wastes residue” was being “stacked over and passed over”, and that construction of another landfill site had been “delayed for more than five years” leading to “improper storage and management of municipal solid waste (MSW), resulting into foul smell due to tearing of plastic cover, flowing of leachate, particularly so during rainy season, thereby causing air pollution as well as water pollution.”
It also said that “untreated MSW” was flowing “along with rainy water from the slope of small hillock towards the village side”, adding, all this happened despite the fact that the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) “issued several notices to RMC, indicating deficiencies in the operation of the MSW management plant”. The RMC, apparently, overlooked these notices. In fact, it said, “HBEPL is only a contractor of RMC and therefore has no separate legal rights as such.”
The NGT underlined, “It was repeatedly pointed out that leachate collection and treatment was improper. It was further pointed out by GPCB that at the landfill site, leachate was flowing outside the premises during rainy season creating pools of contaminated water outside the landfill site.”
It even found that this was “a fit case”, in which those villagers, who are having agricultural lands or residences living close to the epicentre “of the present site”, including villagers of Nakravadi, Pipaliya, Nagalpar, Khijadiya, Rajgadh, Sokhda and Hadmatiya etc. should be “identified and be paid compensation.”
Based on all this, it directed the Gujarat Pollution Control Board to carry out a complete survey of all MSWs operated by Gujarat's municipal corporations of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Junagarh and Gandhinagar, apart from Rajkot, as also 50-odd municipalities. The survey reports, it added, should be handed over to the state urban development department, which must ensure that the laxity observed in Rajkot does resurface at othr places.
However, the compensation payable, it declared, has to be just about Rs 20,000 to each farmer who has suffered because of the pollution, for which the district collector, Rajkot, should carry out a survey. And for this, it should "tentatively" deposit a sum of Rs 25 lakh with the district collector. As for the environment body which filed the application, the polluter must pay Rs 1 lakh as expenses, it said, even as rejecting the applicant's contention that the landfill site be handed back to the villages it belonged to.

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