Court Digest: Major environment hearings of the week (September 7-11, 2020)

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

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 12 September 2020

Adani project stalled

The Rajasthan High Court September 8, 2020 temporarily stayed a joint venture project of the Adani group and the state government for building a 1,500-megawatt solar energy park near Pokhran in Jaisalmer.

A Jodhpur bench of the high court, while staying the project, also sought the Rajasthan government’s stand on a petition by local farmers challenging the allocation of nearly 990 hectares of agricultural land to the private business house for executing the solar energy project.

The bench of justices Sangeet Lodha and Rameshwar Vyas also sought the stand of project executant Adani Renewable Energy Park Rajasthan Limited on the farmers' petition and ordered status quo over the project land and slated September 29 for further hearing of the petition.

The bench slated September 29 for the next hearing on Rajasthan Additional Advocate General Rekha Borana’s plea for two weeks to file a reply to the petition.

Cigarette / bidi butt disposal

A two-member bench of justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Sonam Phintso Wangdi of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) September 9, directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to lay down guidelines for disposal of cigarette / bidi butts in the interest of the environment within three months.

An application was filed September 23, 2015, with a prayer to regulate the disposal of cigarette and bidi butts, apart from prohibiting consumption of tobacco in public places. 

A notice was issued September 28, 2015, to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, CPCB, the Tobacco Board and other respondents.

The response of MoEF&CC was cigarette and bidi butts were not listed as hazardous. The cellulose acetate — prepared by converting cellulose into an acetic acid ester — is essentially a biodegradable substance. The biodegradability of cellulose acetate, however, was not necessarily satisfactory in practice.

The Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) filed a report July 9 on whether cigarette and bidi butts fall within the category of toxic waste or not. The IITR report said the analysis of the cigarette / bidi butts reflect that according to the concentration of various parameters analysed, they were lower than the prescribed limits and would not be toxic to humans and the environment.

Cellulose acetate, however, was a major component of the cigarette / bidi butts and its degradation studies show it will persist for a longer duration.

Disposal of spent catalysts

A CPCB committee submitted its report to the NGT September 8 on unscientific disposal of spent catalysts by oil refineries in India. Spent catalysts were categorised as hazardous waste and contained nickel, cadmium, zinc, copper, arsenic, vanadium and cobalt. This was categorised under a list of common recyclable hazardous wastes at Schedule IV of Hazardous Waste Management Rules (HOWM), 2016.

The committee observed spent catalyst, quantity and disposal method was not defined clearly in the authorisation granted by the state pollution control board (SPCB) concerned in case of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL), Panipat and some other oil refineries.

IOCL Panipat, Haryana, IOCL Mathura Refinery, Uttar Pradesh, IOCL Barauni, Bihar, Reliance Jamnagar, Gujarat generated spent catalysts to the tune of 8,505.215 mega tonnes (MT), 518.82 MT, 5,202 MT and 407 MT respectively.

This exceeded the authorised quantity of spent catalyst given in the authorisation by the concerned SPCB during the past three years. All 23 oil refineries did not maintain generation of spent catalyst information in the requisite form, according to the Hazardous Waste Management Rules (HOWM), 2016.

During the inspection of the committee, it was found that IOCL Panipat, HPCL Bhatinda and IOCL Digboi did not maintain packaging and labelling of hazardous and other waste, according to Rule 17 of HOWM Rules, 2016.

In addition, these units — except HPCL Mittal Refinery, Bhatinda, Punjab — also did not have adequate storage facility for safe and environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes.

Generally, oil refineries do not examine the eligibility of recylers / utilisers of spent catalyst before e-auctioning. The committee recommended that SPCBs / pollution control committee must be directed to issue proper authorisation for handling and management of hazardous and other waste to generators / utilizers / recyclers.

Another recommendation was that all refineries generating hazardous waste ensure to dispose of their hazardous and other waste in scientific manner or to the authorised utilisers / recyclers in accordance with HOWM Rules, 2016.

All the spent catalyst generators, that is, oil refineries, should be directed to prepare uniform standard operating procedure for e-auctioning of hazardous and other waste including spent catalyst across the country.

Marina beach pollution

The NGT directed the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to strictly monitor the sources of pollution affecting the Marina beach in Chennai. This included the illegal release of sewage and other effluents from sewage treatment plants (STP) and common effluent treatment plants (CETP), in coordination with concerned authorities.

The order was in pursuance to a joint committee report on the huge collection of foam at Marina Beach, Chennai.

The report cited possible reasons for the collection of foam at Marina beach:

  • Due to heavy rain, the flow of the Adyar river increased, causing disturbance of debris at the bottom and sludge, in turn leading to froth formation due to high mixing / turbulence
  • Another reason for the frothing of the sea could be sediments (containing organic matter) from the desilting of the Adyar. Desilting done by the Chennai River Restoration Trust (CRRT) could have reached the sea
  • An analysis report showed variations in water quality on the day of the froth formation and a normal day, indicating that rain water and sewage were mixed
  • There was a chance of bypassing untreated / partially treated sewage from Common Sewage Treatment Plants (CSTP) of capacity 23 million litres per day (MLD), 54 MLD extension 1 and 40 MLD extension 2. These were located at Nesapakkam operated by the Chennai Metro Water Supply and sewerage board into the river during the rains before the date of sea foam occurrence

The TNPCB would monitor the CSTPs at Nesapakkam so as to avoid recurrence of sea foam at the mouth of the Adyar. Moreover, the flow meters installed at CSTPs should be connected to TNPCB’s online monitoring system for effective monitoring, the report recommended.

The CRRT was reviewing the performance of the works carried out regularly. The action plan of the CRRT involved the abatement of pollution, eviction of encroachments, plugging of sewer in-falls providing interceptors and diversion arrangements, modular sewage treatment plants, widening and deepening of waterways, the report said.

Compensate for loss of forest area on Char Dham highway: SC

The Supreme Court (SC) directed the Union government to undertake plantation activities to compensate for the loss of forest area due to the construction of the Char Dham highway in Uttarakhand, according to media reports.

The highway — launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016 — comprised projects aiming to improve over 889 kilometres length of national highways leading to pilgrimage sites Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.

The apex court also ordered the Centre to comply with a 2018 circular of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) over the width of the road. The circular recommended the intermediate carriageway of 5.5 metres tarred surface was adopted for hilly terrain.

A report with signatures of four members of a 26-member committee, including chairperson Rajiv Chopra, an environmentalist and former director of the Dehradun-based People’s Science Institute, recommended the apex court to take the final call on the road width.

The committee suggested an intermediate width of 5.5 metres, citing the MoRTH circular. The MoRTH recommended against ‘double laning and paved shoulders’ in hilly terrain and called for a narrower intermediate road width. The Supreme Court subsequently set up a high-powered committee August 2019, mandating it to consider the ecological impact of the 900-km project.

COVID-19 testing

The Delhi High Court September 8 said any resident of Delhi who wished to get tested at his / her own expense through the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), needed to produce a prescription from a doctor.

The person concerned will only be required to fill up the form prescribed by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and produce an Aadhaar Card to establish that he / she is a resident of Delhi.

Mobile van facilities for conducting tests at various spots in Delhi must be ramped up, the high court said. At least four such vans should be available in each of the 11 districts to be stationed at sites, as may be considered appropriate, including near prominent DMRC terminals.

Sero Surveillance-3 conducted by the Delhi Government in collaboration with the Maulana Azad Medical College in September concluded. The results were still being collated, along with a fresh status report for updates of the status of testing to be filed by the Delhi government.

The ICMR filed a status report informing the high court of the latest testing advisory issued September 4. The highlight of the said advisory was that ICMR — for the first time — recommended testing on demand for all individuals travelling inter-state and to other countries. A recommendation was made to the concerned state governments to decide if they wished to simplify the modalities of testing.

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