Good shot

Apex court committee penalises chemical plant

Published: Friday 15 October 2004

an encouraging precedent in environmental protection has been set by a Supreme Court (sc) committee of experts in a case involving pollution caused by a chemical plant. The Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (scmc) has asked state government agencies to clean up the hazardous waste dumped by the defunct Hema Chemicals in the Gorwa area of Vadodara district. It has also directed the polluter to bear its entire cost of Rs 17 crore. The plant manufactured basic chromium sulphate, potassium and sodium-bi-chromate.

scmc has sent a letter in this regard to Gujarat's chief secretary, along with a list of recommendations that have to be implemented in a time-bound manner. It has asked the state government to ensure that the hazardous hexavalent chromium waste dumped over an area of a few square kilometres is removed completely. Besides, an expert body has to be constituted to undertake a rehabilitation plan for the area, based on the removal of the waste to an engineered landfill. Till the rehabilitation is completed, the owner of Hema Chemicals, Mahendrabhai Patel, cannot leave the country or dispose off his assets.

Environmentalists suggest this case should be considered a model for other cases pertaining to the state's Golden Corridor industrial belt. But Rohit Prajapati of Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, a non-governmental organisation, and other activists also demand that workers of the defunct plant should be compensated according to the law.

A sub-committee of scmc had visited the site in March 2004 and submitted an affidavit to the sc. The affidavit equated the waste dump with the toxic waste lying inside the non-operational Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. "The Hema case needs to be taken up by the Apex Court as it involves 45,000 tonnes of extremely hazardous hexavalent chromium in the midst of the city," it said. It also stressed the need of the court's interference: "The owner seems to be able to withstand any pressure in this regard placed on him by state authorities. So, the matter needs the intervention of the Apex Court."

But Patel charges scmc with partiality: "When they came to visit the place, they never heard us. We wanted to put forth our point. This is not fair." About whether he would comply with the order, he says: "I am going to approach scmc. " He adds that Rs 17 crore is a huge amount and he will not be able to furnish it. He also denies that Hema Chemicals dumped such a large amount of waste. "This is not true at all. My unit was small and it never violated any environmental norms," he claims. He even says that his chemical plant had got a clean chit from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (gpcb).

While gpcb's regional officer at Vadodara, S M Jha, denies that the board gave a clean chit to Hema Chemicals, other gpcb officials point out that no law regarding dumping of hazardous wastes existed when Hema Chemicals dumped its waste. The state government has asked the National Productivity Council, New Delhi, a non-profit organisation, to conduct an impact assessment in the area and submit its report within two months. It has also directed the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, to study the effects of the waste on the health of the local population. Sanjeev Tyagi, member-secretary of gpcb, says all the directions of the scmc would be implemented once these organisations submit their reports.

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