The tribunal, in an earlier order, said brick kilns in the National Capital Region cannot operate until an assimilative carrying capacity study was conducted
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) July 9, 2020 declared an order given by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary to allow the operation of brick kilns null and void because it contradicted a directive by the tribunal.
The NGT, in an earlier November 2019 order, had asked brick kilns in the National Capital Region (NCR) to not operate until an assimilative carrying capacity study was conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Assimilative capacity refers to the ability of the environment or a portion of the environment (such as a stream, lake, air mass or soil layer) to carry waste material without adverse effects on the environment or on users of its resources.
The CPCB submitted its study on July 6. The chief secretary, however, ordered district magistrates March 29 to allow operations during the countrywide lockdown.
An applicant approached the NGT in March — citing a December 2018 news report — alleging brick kilns 50-500 metres east or west of village habitations in Baghpat district were responsible for a 40 per cent increase in cancer and asthma.
The applicant asked for remedial action against the allegedly illegal operation of 600 brick kilns. The court also took cognisance of a report submitted by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) to the NGT in another case from November 2019.
Loopholes in rules
The report stated brick kilns must be established according to siting criteria under the Uttar Pradesh Brick Kiln (Siting Criteria for Establishment) Rules, 2012.
The rules state siting norms applied to kilns established after 2012. They did not, however, say how many kilns existed before this year and did not mention compliance of air quality norms.
Units set up after 2012 and in violation of siting criteria were not allowed to continue.
The NGT — in its November 2019 order — asked for the carrying capacity study to understand if the area was able to sustain the activity of brick kilns. It asked the UPPCB to carry out the ambient air quality monitoring.
Ambient air quality monitoring was carried out at three locations where clusters of brick kilns were located. These kilns, however, were not operational when monitoring was conducted because of a prior NGT order in another case.
The results of the ambient air quality were still high, with the value likely to increase once brick kilns resumed operations.
The tribunal ordered compliance of its November 2019 order directing closure of the kilns in the NCR region as it became evident that the number of kilns were very high in Baghpat.
It then came to the notice of the NGT, from the district magistrate of Ghaziabad, that the kilns in UP and NCR resumed operations after the UP chief secretary’s directive.
Operation of kilns in winter not feasible
The CPCB in its study estimated existing pollution load, assimilative carrying capacity and supportive carrying capacity. It also came up with data on the number of zigzag brick kilns that could be allowed to operate based on supportive carrying capacity.
Supportive carrying capacity is the potential available in the environment to carry waste considering the difference between the assimilative capacity of the environment and the present loading of the pollutants/waste into the environment.
The operation of kilns during the winter (October-February) was not possible as the atmosphere had no assimilative capacity, according to the report.
A restricted number of kilns, however, can be allowed to operate during the summer (March-June), the report said.
The CPCB also stressed on following siting criteria when allowing reduced number of kilns to operate.
The kilns needed to have a 500-metre distance between each other, the report pointed out. It also recommended a feasibility study to understand whether liquefied natural gas or other cleaner fuel can be used for firing to reduce stack emission further.
Operation of brick kilns
*Negative value indicates kilns cannot operate
Clean tech not the only solution
In its July 9 order, the NGT said it was surprised by the chief secretary issuing an order in contradiction to its own directive, considering brick kilns were in violation of their carrying capacity.
The tribunal warned the chief secretary to be careful and ensure compliance of its order.
The carrying capacity of the CPCB established a future framework on how brick kilns can operate in NCR and also how the siting of air polluting industries will be decided, the NGT said.
The adoption of clean technology is not the only solution: A holistic approach taking siting criteria and measures for fugitive dust control into account is also needed, said the court.
“We are ready to work with the CPCB and upgrade our kilns and lower their emissions and fuel consumption,” said Shailesh Kr Jawrani, the media in-charge of the Uttar Pradesh Brick Association.
“We will work this year to reduce fugitive dust emission from brick kilns according to the CPCB’s directions,” he added.
The court judgment made it clear there will be not be any compromise over the protection of environment. If brick kilns want to operate in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat, they must abide by the conditions set by the CPCB.
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