Court Digest: Major environment hearings of the week (October 5-9, 2020)

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

By DTE Staff
Published: Sunday 11 October 2020

Sasan breach

A check dam near the ash dumping site of Sasan Power Ltd (SPL) in Siddhikhurd village of Singrauli district could have played a role in a breach April 10, 2020.

SPL had constructed two ash ponds for disposing ash generated from coal-burning, according to a report by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board joint committee.

The ash was collected in two forms: bottom ash and fly ash. SPL had also intermittently disposed ash in two low-lying sites called Island 3 and Island 4.

The breach occurred when an Poclain earth-mover atop the embankment slipped down.

Its excavating bucket took a part of the slope.

The committee found a stream at the breach site that was not present when dumping started at Island 4.

The check dam, constructed at the disposal site May 2019, was an important change. It was about 200 metres away from the breach, close to the plant boundary and periphery of Island 4.

In the altered situation, the water table in the area would have risen; as Island 4 was close to the dam, ground water under it would also have risen. That would

build hydrostatic pressure on the embankment.

Though triggered by the Poclain excavating bucket, the altered hydro-dynamics meant the embankment would have failed eventually, according to the report. 

Environmental clearance

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) filed an affidavit before the National Green Tribunal (NGT) October 6, 2020 about a priot notification.

MoEF&CC March 28 had notified an exemption to the need for prior environmental clearances (EC) for some activities. This was challenged by Noble M Paikada.

The activities included:

  1. Extraction of ordinary clay or sand by potters to prepare earthen pots, lamps, toys, etc
  2. Extraction of ordinary clay or sand by earthen tile-makers
  3. Removal of sand deposits on agricultural fields
  4. Extraction of sand and earth from sources situated in a Gram Panchayat
  5. Community works like de-silting of village ponds or tanks, construction of village roads, ponds or bunds undertaken under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment and Guarantee Scheme, other government sponsored schemes and community efforts
  6. Traditional occupational work of sand by Vanjaras and Oads in Gujarat
  7. Activities declared by the state government as non-mining ones

The MoEF&CC had, prior to the notification, exempted the above-mentioned cases by issuing certain office memoranda and circulars from time to time.

The March 28 notification was issued in public interest and the notification was for the aid of general public, according to the affidavit.

It had provided assistance to potters, farmers, Gram Panchayats, Vanjaras and Oads. It had also helped in the execution of all non-mining activities declared by state governments, the affidavit added.

The notification was challenged in the Supreme Court (SC) by the non-profit Society for Protection of Environment and Biodiversity. The SC had dismissed the petition July 27 and thus the notification was adjudicated by the apex court and upheld, the affidavit said. 

Bio-medical waste management

An oversight committee headed by judge SVS Rathore filed a report before the NGT on non-compliance of provisions of Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 (BMW Rules, 2016) by Uttar Pradesh.

The report was in compliance with the NGT order passed in Original Application No 710 / 2017 in the matter of Shailesh Singh Vs Sheela Hospital and Trauma Centre and Others.

The committee, in its report, said there was an elaborate track and trace system of bio-medical waste management prescribed in the BMW Rules, 2016, in which all coloured bags are bar-coded. The movement of trucks is tracked through a global positioning system (GPS).

However, barring a small pilot in Lucknow, none of the operators were using the bar-coding system. This put a big question mark on the reliability of the data generated, it said.

Large infrastructural gaps in healthcare facilities (HCF) were also noticed, due to which many were not complying with BMW Rules. Around 452 of 530 HCFs with an operating capacity of more than 100 beds did not have sewage treatment plants (STP) / effluent treatment plants (ETP).

Even in government facilities, out of 1,027 HCFs comprising district hospitals and community health centrers (CHC), 564 did not have collection sheds where biomedical waste could be collected.

Only 628 primary health centers out of 3,620 had deep burial pits.

The construction of ETPs in district hospitals was very slow and only 40 district hospitals were taken up for ETP construction in 2020, it added. Nearly 2,483 HCFs were notauthorised under BMW Rules. Of these, 441 HCFs belong to the government.

An important gap was noticed in the disposal of radioactive materials. The health department must develop standard protocols and build capacity for all the stakeholders, the report said.

The report stressed on capacity building among stakeholders. Pollution in hospitals was a constant challenge and the nature and extent of infections keep on varying, the latest being COVID-19.

The report recommended that capacity building workshops be organised on a continuous basis for all stakeholders — doctors, paramedics, other hospital staff, laboratory staff, blood bank staff, private practitioners, nursing homes and the HCFs.

Odisha Laterite mining

It was not clear as to why environmental compensation was being recovered from drivers of trucks carrying laterite stone from mines in Khordha, Odisha, instead of the operators behind the illegal mining, the NGT said October 1.

The tribunal was responding to a case filed by Bidu Bhusan Harichandan about the illegal mining of laterite by the rat hole method, without following the standard operating procedures for mining and other environmental laws.

There were at least 40 different sites spread across 500 acres in Khordha district, including several villages namely Tapanga, Anda and Jhinkijhari under the Nijigarh Tapang panchayat, the petitioner said.

The NGT directed a joint committee to examine and submit a report on the identity of the persons running the illegal quarry and whether the Environmental Impact Assessment process had been followed while permitting the administration of Puri’s Jagannath temple to mine the area.

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