Issues notice demanding reply within six weeks
The Supreme Court has recently issued notices to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and 19 other state governments asking why the critically polluted clusters continue to remain polluted despite pollution control norms. The move has come in response to a public interest litigation filed together by a non-profit and a farmers’ group alleging that industries have not been adhering to prescribed pollution-control norms.
The apex court bench, headed by Justice A K Patnaik, has granted six weeks, starting from December 9, to all the respondents to reply to the notices slapped on them.
What the litigation says
The PIL filed by Vadodara-based non-profit Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) and Farmers' Action Group (FAG) on December 9 had sought the states to end the subsidies given to industries in critically polluted clusters of the country. “The PIL demands that respondents should ensure that no effluents, having pollutants in excess of the prescribed norms, flow into any water body (including groundwater) or seep into the soil, and no industry is permitted to function unless it has an effluent treatment plant that meets prescribed norms,” stated environmental activist, Rohit Prajapati, at a press briefing in Ahmedabad on Monday. “We have filed the PIL to seek implementation of the existing pollution control norms and the polluter pays principle,” added the activist.
According to a judgement upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, Polluter Pays Principle means that absolute liability of harm to the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution, but also to the cost of restoring environmental degradation. Remediation of damaged environment is part of the process of sustainable development.
Norms violated despite various moratoriums
According to Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) published by Central Pollution Control Board earlier this year, industrial pollution has caused massive degradation in rivers, air, on land and other water bodies in 43 most critically polluted clusters in India and in 32 severally polluted clusters. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) says that CEPI score of more than 60 shows a critical level of pollution in the respective environmental component, whereas a score between 50 and 60 shows a severe level of pollution with reference to the respective environmental component.
Though several moratoriums, including CPCB recommendations on adherence to pollution norms and Polluter Pays Principle, have been imposed on the clusters seeking expansion of industries, the activists allege that these norms have often been violated. “Taking the example of India's most critically polluted area – Vapi in Gujarat—whose CEPI score this year (85.31) is very close to what it was last year, one can clearly make out that the condition in polluted areas has not changed despite various moratoriums,” said Prajapati.
When the first CEPI scores were first released in 2006, Central Pollution Control Board imposed a moratorium on expansion of industrial units in Vapi. Action plans to control the pollution were drawn up by the industry bodies, approved by Gujarat Pollution Control Board. In 2008, despite negligible improvement, the moratorium was lifted.
“Ankleshwar, another critically polluted area situated in Gujarat and known for its chemical and dye manufacturing unit, in 2013 has a CEPI score of 80.93. However, the government has never been serious about controlling the pollution in these areas,” alleges the petition.
The petition has also alleged that effluent treatment plants in clusters like Ankleshwar continue to be funded by the state governments and the Centre. “This is against the polluter pays principle which says that of the total cost of a Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP), 25 per cent was given as a subsidy by the state, another 25 per cent by the centre, 30 per cent was taken as a loan from financial institutions and only 20 per cent was directly paid by industries,” added the activist.
| Five demands of the PIL
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