Court Digest: Major environment hearings of the week (November 8-13, 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: Sunday 15 November 2020

Ban on firecrackers

Pollution caused by bursting crackers aggravated risks to the lives of people in the middle of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

This had prompted the governments of Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, the Union territory of Chandigarh, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee  and the Calcutta High Court to ban the sale and use of crackers, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) said November 9, 2020.

There was a need to issue directions for banning the sale and use of fire crackers from November 9-30 in areas where air quality was ‘poor’, ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’, the tribunal said.

The NGT also directed that the following measures be taken:

  • There will be a total ban against the sale or use of all kinds of fire crackers in the National Capital Region from the midnight of November 9-10 till the midnight of November 30-December 1, 2020. This will be reviewed later
  • The direction would also apply to all cities / towns in the country where the average of ambient air quality during November fell under the ‘poor’ category
  • Only green crackers were to be sold in cities / towns where air quality was ‘moderate’ or below. The timings for use and bursting of crackers was to be restricted to two hours during festivals like Diwali, Chatt, Gurpurab, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, as specified by the concerned states
  • If nothing was specified by the state, timings would be from 8 to 10 pm on Diwali and Gurpurab, 6 am to 8 am on Chatt and 11.55 pm to 12.30 am during Christmas and New Year’s Eve and not otherwise
  • At other places, bans / restrictions would be optional for authorities. But if there were more stringent measures under orders of the authorities, they would prevail
  • All states / Union territories / pollution control boards (PCB) / pollution control committees (PCC) should initiate special drives to contain air pollution from all sources, in view of potential aggravation of COVID-19
  • The chief secretary and director general of police (DGP) of all states / Union territories have to issue and circulate an appropriate order on these terms, with appropriate enforcement guidelines to all the district magistrates and superintendents of police, PCBs / PCCs
  • The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the state PCBs / PCCs should regularly monitor air quality during this period and upload data on their respective websites
  • CPCB should compile information on the subject, including the status of compliance of the NGT order from all the states / Union territories and file a consolidated report with data compiled till filing of the report, before the next date (December 1, 2020)
  • A copy of the order should be forwarded to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, CPCB, chief secretaries and DGPs, state PCBs / PCCs and district magistrates of all states / Union territories

Illegal tree felling

The NGT expressed its disappointment at the lack of action taken by the government of Arunachal Pradesh to tackle the menace of illegal felling of trees. It directed the state to “consider taking interim measures in view of the urgency of the situation”.

This would include induction of retired personnel of the forest department as well as state police personnel. The NGT suggested that the state government should also consider hiring retired army personnel on a contract basis for patrolling the hotspots in forest areas.

Jorjo Tana Tara had filed an application alleging the indiscriminate felling of trees in a reserved forest area that is part of the Papum Reserved Forest and part of the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh.

According to the applicant, indiscriminate felling of trees had been taking place in the area. Though the government was aware of this, no effective steps had been taken to curb it. Such large scale felling would cause human-animal conflict in the area, threatening the survival of tigers, the application said.

The NGT noted that there was hardly any progress made after the NGT order of August 30, 2019. In that order, the tribunal had pointed out “serious lacunae in the administration of the forest area by the state”. The principal difficulty was the shortage of manpower, which the state government had proposed to increase.

The state government should make use of the forest cover map prepared with the help of satellites imageries by the Forest Survey of India, Dehradun of the most affected districts / hotspots, the NGT order said.

It should also observe the change in forest cover that had occurred over a time period of 10 years that could be helpful in evolving an action plan to deal with the issue, the court added.

Tara had suggested identifying hotspots where the illegalities were rampant.

The court was told that the state government intended to fill up the existing vacant posts of the forest personnel as a first step. It would then create over 200 posts of frontline staff, including foresters and forest guards.

Furnace oil leak at Chandrapura Thermal Power Station

A joint committee report dated September 29, 2020 on the leak of furnace oil in the premises of the Chandrapura Thermal Power Station (CTPS), operated by the Damodar Valley Corporation in Jharkhand, contained “incorrect information”.

It carried an incorrect date of incident and the extent of pollution to river Damodar, its tributaries and adjoining areas.

This was mentioned in the report filed by the applicant, Praveen Kr Singh, with the NGT as response to the joint committee report.

The report by the applicant said the committee had incorrect information about the date of incident, which happened on October 13, 2019 instead of October 15. No action was taken by the Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board (JSPCB) officials immediately when the spill took place.

The joint committee also failed to ascertain the correct quantity of oil spilled. The committee has shown a “very casual approach to ascertain the quantity of oil leaked into river Damodar” and relied upon a report which was prepared by an in-house committee of CTPS.

The joint committee report mentioned 0.60 kilolitres (600 litres) oil leaked into the river. This quantity could not have been true as the said leak continued for over 41 hours and 53,000 litres of oil had flown into the Damodar before it was detected by the district collector, Dhanbad.

The response report of November 10, 2020 stated that media reports also mentioned that the Damodar Valley Corporation intentionally released the water from the Tenughat reservoir to flush the oil in the river further downstream.

This resulted in the oil spreading much further along the course of the Damodar, impacting areas such as Dhanbad, Chas, Jharia and Sindri.

This, in turn, had an adverse impact on the drinking water supply of about two-three million people.

Greening of national highways

The NGT directed the Maharashtra government to restore the green belt along the National Highway No 53 from Mumbai to Kolkata at Chirvha village in Nagpur district.

It also ordered that any construction made in the belt in violation of the law was to be removed within two months. The execution of this direction would be overseen by a committee comprising the collector of Nagpur, the National Highways Authority of India and the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board.

Waste management by armed forces

The NGT November 10 said the armed forces should look at having a suitable in-house monitoring mechanism at various levels so that environmental issues can be fully addressed.

Persons responsible should have a joint meeting with expert bodies such as the CPCB so that best practices were reviewed. The designated officers at different levels could also initiate awareness programmes on environmental issues and challenges.

The NGT order was in response to the application filed by Rtd Air Marshal Anil Chopra on waste management in the establishments of the armed forces.

A status report was filed September 10, 2020 in respect of the Air Force, Army and Navy.

The status report by the Air Force mentioned that green initiatives had been undertaken with instructions on cleanliness drive. Green norms had been laid down and environmental friendly procedures were being adhered to, it said.

The report of the Army referred to the Siachen Glacier ecological issues, action plan by way of sensitisation of troops, identifying methods to decrease the waste and methods of disposal thereof.

Two task forces were constituted and responsibilities given to reduce waste generation and scientific waste management at different locations. Assistance was sought from the corporate entities and the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

The status report by the Navy mentioned that they adopted a theme of ‘Green Footprint to Blue Water Operations’. There were policy directives with respect to the solar power generation at naval units, fuel conservation onboard in ships, directives on handling hazardous and plastic waste.

Waste management was also given due impetus in existing naval stations and for all new naval projects related to marine infrastructure. Green measures were incorporated in the design stage itself, the report by the Navy said.

The Coast Guard also filed its status report.

Forest encroachments in Delhi

Forest laws could be defeated by allowing encroachments and then pleading helplessness by the authorities in enforcing the law, said the two-member Bench of Adarsh Kumar Goel and Sheo Kumar Singh of the NGT November 9, 2020.

The judges were hearing the case filed by Amarjit Singh Nalwa on the failure of the authorities to remove encroachments from forest land despite NGT’s December 11, 2015 order at certain locations in South Delhi.

The matter was considered in the light of the status reports filed by the deputy commissioner, south district, Delhi government.

It showed there were 5,000 encroachers and 750-800 structures set up illegally over a period of time at one camp / bastis and about 3,000 encroachers living at another camp in Mehrauli. Huge forest land has been encroached. 

The NGT said while removing such encroachment was a challenge, the Rule of Law needed to be enforced. It directed that further action be taken according to law and status report as on March 31, 2021 be filed before April 19, 2021.

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