Daily Court Digest: Major environment orders (July 29, 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: Wednesday 29 July 2020
Gavel. Source: Getty images

Smog towers in Delhi

The Supreme Court (SC) on July 29, 2020 warned Indian Institute of Technoology (IIT), Bombay that stern action would be taken against the institute for violating its orders. The matter related to installation of smog towers in Delhi to control air pollution.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the SC that they have not been able to make any agreement with IIT-Bombay for the installation of the smog towers. IIT has now backed out. 

The apex court called it “dilly-dallying tactics” and a violation of the SC order. It said it would have to proceed against IIT-Bombay as well as “the concerned persons for violating the order of this Court and backing out from the basis of the order.”

It said “such attitude was not expected of such institutions and when the matter related to public interest”. The court directed that the order be complied with forthwith and listed the matter for July 30, 2020.

Fly ash pond collapse

Action taken report of a committee was filed before the NGT in reference to the June 29, 2020 order, related to the collapse of fly ash pond constructed by Reliance Sasan Ultra Thermal Power Plant in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh, on April 10, 2020.

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

According to the report, the industry had been disposing its fly ash in ‘Island 4 or C5 area’ since March 2019. As reported by plant official, the incidence of fly ash pond’s retaining wall breach happened on April 10 in the low-lying area inside the plant premise.

One machine was on job of levelling soil on the top of the retaining wall; when it was moved back, it slipped towards the outer slope of the retaining wall. In order to prevent the slippage, the machine operator tried to anchor the bucket on the top soil of the retaining wall. However, due to its own weight, the machine pulled down a big chunk of soil from the bund.

During the process, the operator damaged the wall significantly, which initiated the break of the retaining wall. This resulted in huge quantum of fly ash with water gushing out 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 informed IIT-BHU had been asked to examine the reason of breach in the embankment of ash disposal site.

The report, submitted by professor Arun Prasad of IIT-BHU after his site visit on June 13, 2020, said the failure of embankment was initiated by slippage of poclain.

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

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

Nature of damage

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 the ash water recirculation pipeline of the industry and submerged the agricultural lands and summer season crops.

The slurry travelled up to 6.5 kilometers.

The committee was of the opinion that an appropriate direction needed to be issued to expedite the cleaning work so as to avoid further flow of ash towards Rihand reservoir. Significant quantities of fly ash between 1.5 to 2 lakh tonnes was seen spread on the banks of Goiwahai drain over a stretch of 6.5 km till its confluence with the Rihand river.

Manufacture of AAC blocks

Platinum AAC Blocks was unauthorisedly manufacturing autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blocks from June 2017 to May 2019 in Kherdi village, Dadra & Nagar Haveli. This was stated in the counter affidavit filed by the Pollution Control Committee, Daman and Diu and Dadra Nagar Haveli, before the NGT.

The Platinum AAC manufacturing unit had caused serious environmental damages by dumping fly ash raw material in the entire premises and manufacturing AAC blocks. The unit needs to be closed to safeguard the environment and protect the people from serious respiratory, renal and other illnesses, the report said.

The unit had violated the provisions of Water Act, 1974 and Air Act, 1981 and established the unit. The industry falls in the red category and the report recommended that such a unit should be established within the locality of thermal power plants or near to a cement plant to avoid transportation by road.

The unit was not manufacturing white-category products and declared falsely that it would manufacture AAC blocks in June 2019, whereas it was manufacturing the same since June 2017.

Burning of scrap waste in Vapi

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

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

The joint visit was the result of the National Green Tribunal (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 area.

The paper mills which do not require deinking process for products like paper board / kraft paper were generating plastic waste and small quantity of effluent treatment plant (ETP) sludge. It was noted that the paper mills had an agreement with the 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 the 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 as well as waste from commercial areas was scattered in the area.

 The area 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.

The scraps were sorted for recovery of various valuable items and the rest was thrown away on the open land and burned.

The committee, after the visit, recommended:

  • Since open burning was taking place, primary responsibility to stop accumulation of waste and scrap lay with the gram panchayat. In this regard, the GPCB should issue 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 joint survey of the scrap traders cluster 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 such illegal open burning
  • The paper industries that were generating deinking sludge should submit quarterly report of generation and disposal of deinking sludge to the GPCB. Further, the units which had obtained one-year trial permission from the GPCB for using deinking sludge for waste-to-energy should submit compliance report for the period. The SPCB should carry out random emission monitoring to verify.

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