Court Digest: Major environment hearings of the week (July 27-31, 2020)

Down To Earth brings you the top environmental cases heard in the Supreme Court, the high courts and the National Green Tribunal through the week

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 01 August 2020

Himachal electric buses

The Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) procured 25 electric buses, following the successful trial of operation of electric buses on the Rohtang stretch. Seven charging points were provided at Manali, four at Kullu and four at Mandi.

This was over a quarterly status report filed in compliance with an earlier order given by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

The issue for consideration is the remedial steps for maintaining ecology in the area of Manali and Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh. The report mentioned department-wise steps taken and compliance status. 

At least 50 more electric buses were purchased during 2019-20 for plying in and around Shimla to reduce pollution and promote environment-friendly public transport system in Himachal Pradesh.

HRTC intends to purchase 100 more electric buses in 2020-21. These were some of the measures mentioned in the report by the secretary, department of environment, science and technology, Himachal Pradesh, for the preservation of ecology in Manali and Rohtang pass.

The conservator of forests, Kullu, said stage-I forest clearance was already granted by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for the diversion of 8.98 hectares of forest land in favour of Manali Ropeway Pvt Ltd for the construction of Palchan-Rohtang ropeway project.

The project proponent also deposited net present value and compensatory afforestation amount of Rs 1,13,36,324, as well as Rs 1,16,35,274 for the cost of trees and departmental charges with the forest department.

The case for stage-II clearance was sent by the nodal officer (Forest Conservation Act), Himachal Pradesh, to the MoEF&CC January 18, 2020.

Construction of sewage treatment plant (STP) at Marhi and work on the upgradation of STP at Manali had started. 

Khoh river pollution

The two-member bench comprising justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Sonam Phintso Wangdi of the NGT July 28 expressed its displeasure at the work done on the waste disposal dump yards near river Khoh at villages Ratanpur, Kashirampur, Gadighat and near a sports stadium in Kotdwar, Uttarakhand.

The dump yards were illegally set up and garbage was burnt, polluting river water.

The cause of displeasure was a May 21 report on behalf of Uttarakhand, that stated some interim measures were adopted and further action was in progress.

The NGT found the progress was inadequate and cautioned the damage to the environment continued, which was a criminal offence.

The NGT, while granting adjournment till January 11, 2021, made it clear that Uttarakhand will be liable to pay damages for inaction and prosecution of the officers concerned, if no further progress was made.

Fly ash pond collapse

Action-taken report of a committee was filed before the NGT in reference to a June 29 order related to the collapse of fly ash pond constructed by Reliance Sasan Ultra Thermal Power Plant in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh on April 10.

The incident led to flooding of toxic ash slurry in adjoining Harrhava village. At least six people died. It also caused severe damage to vegetation, biodiversity, fertile agricultural land and polluted nearby rivulets.

The industry disposed its fly ash on Island 4 or C5 area since March 2019, according to the report. As reported by plant official, the incidence of fly ash pond’s retaining wall breach occurred on April 10 in the low-lying area inside the plant premise.

One machine was levelling soil on the top of the retaining wall and when it was moved back, it slipped towards the outer slope of the retaining wall.

To prevent the slippage, the machine operator tried to anchor the bucket on the top soil of the retaining wall. Due to its own weight, however, the machine pulled down a big chunk of soil from the bund.

The operator damaged the wall significantly during the process which initiated the break of the retaining wall. This resulted in huge quantum of fly ash with water gushing through the breached wall.

On the day of site visit by the committee, continuous lean flow of water was observed in the low-lying area. During discussion, it was said that the Indian Institute of Technology, Varanasi was asked to examine the reason of breach in the embankment of ash disposal site.

The report, submitted by professor Arun Prasad after a June 13 site visit, said the failure of the embankment was initiated by slippage of the poclain machine.

The subsequent extent of damage of the bund, however, was due to severe hydrostatic pressure on the upstream of the embankment. Through this damaged portion, dilute slurry started flowing, leading to complete cutting of the retention wall.

Accumulation of underground water resulted in heavy flow of ash slurry. The reported hydro static pressure likely developed due to the newly constructed check dam on a stream around May / June 2019.

The flow of slurry was so forceful that it demolished the boundary wall and the adjacent private property and also flowed through the Goiwahai drain.

It damaged an ash-water recirculation pipeline and submerged the agricultural lands and summer season crops. The slurry travelled up to 6.5 kilometres.

The committee was of the opinion that an appropriate direction needed to be issued to expedite the cleaning work to avoid further flow of ash towards Rihand reservoir.

Significant quantities of fly ash between 150,000-200,000 tonnes was seen spread on the banks of Goiwahai drain over a stretch of 6.5 km till its confluence with the Rihand river.

Burning of scrap waste in Vapi

The Central Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) visited four paper mills of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) to observe waste management practices adopted by these units.

They also carried out monitoring of groundwater around GIDC Vapi on November 13-15, 2019. The team, along with Yunus Daud Shaikh (the complainant), surveyed GIDC Vapi and adjoining areas November 13, 2019.

The joint visit was the result of the NGT order on air pollution in Vapi due to burning of waste and scrap from paper mills in the night and chemical contamination of ground water in Vapi.

The paper mills which do not require de-inking process for products like paper board / kraft paper generated plastic waste and small quantity of effluent treatment plant (ETP) sludge.

It was noted that the paper mills had an agreement with cement industries for co-processing plastic waste.

The ETP sludge was mostly reused back in the process owing to fibrous material. No ETP sludge was found stored in the premises of the units during the visit, the joint committee report said.

Open indiscriminate burning of waste at three different locations in a big open area was observed during night time.

The team visited the same area the next morning and observed that different type of industrial waste such as liners, drums, plastic bags, cables and waste from commercial areas was scattered in the area, which was outside Vapi GIDC and falls in the jurisdiction of Karvad gram panchayat.

It was understood during the survey that several scrap vendors were located around the area and used to bring scrap from different industries and commercial areas.

Scrap was sorted for recovery of valuable items, with the rest thrown away on open land and burned.

The committee, after the visit, recommended:

  • Since open burning took place, the primary responsibility to stop accumulation of waste and scrap was with the gram panchayat. The GPCB, in this regard, should issue a letter to the Karvad Gram Panchayat, asking them to take necessary action to stop dumping and accumulating unauthorised waste in their land.
  • The GPCB, district administration and urban local body should carry out a joint survey of the cluster of scrap traders in the area within three months. The outcome of this survey should be taken up in the district environment committee for Valsad district to monitor and stop illegal open burning.
  • The paper industries that generated de-inking sludge should submit quarterly report of generation and disposal of deinking sludge to the GPCB.The units that obtained a one-year trial permission from the GPCB for using de-inking sludge for waste-to-energy should submit compliance report for the period. The GPCB should carry out random emission monitoring to verify this.

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