In a suo moto case registered against the fateful incident of chemical gas leak at Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, the National Green Tribunal has constituted a five-member Committee to inspect the site and submit a report to it within ten days.
A bench comprising of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Chairperson; Justice Sheo Kumar Singh, Judicial Member and Dr. Nagin Nanda, Expert Member have also in the interregnum directed LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd., owner of the plant from where the gas leaked, to deposit a sum of Rs. 50 Crore, with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam.
"Having regard to the prima facie material regarding the extent of damage to life, public health and environment, we direct LG Polymers India Pvt., Limited to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs. 50 Crore, with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, which will abide by further orders of this Tribunal," the Tribunal has ordered.
This is in view of the principal of "Strict Liability" under the environmental laws.
"Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of 'Strict Liability' against the enterprise engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry. Such an entity is liable to restore the damage caused under the Environment Law, apart from other statutory liability," the bench observed.
The 5-member Committee, comprising of Justice B. Seshasayana Reddy, Former Judge, A.P. High Court; Prof. Ch V Rama Chandra Murthy, Former Vice Chancellor, Andhra University, Vizag; Professor Pulipati King, Head of Chemical Engineering Department, Andhra University, Vizag; Member Secretary, CPCB; Director, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology; and Head, NEERI, Vizag has been instructed to
"visit and inspect the site at the earliest and give its report before the next date."
The Committee has been asked to specifically report:
- The sequence of events;
- Causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible therefor;
- Extent of damage to life, human and non-human; public health; and environment – including, water, soil, air;
- Steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of the damaged property and environment, and the cost involved;
- Remedial measures to prevent recurrence; and
- Any other incidental or allied issues found relevant.
The Committee will be at liberty to take assistance of such experts, individuals and institutions as may be considered necessary.
In view of the lockdown however, it has been directed that those members of the Committee who are not situated locally may provide their assistance online. For the same, the Chairman, CPCB has been asked to steer and facilitate the functioning of the Committee using available technology.
Further, The Member Secretary of CPCB has been appointed as the Nodal Agency for coordination with the Committee and the state authorities viz., DM, Vishakhapatnam, and Regional Office, Andhra Pradesh State PCB have been directed to provide logistic support to the Committee to enable their fact-finding and reporting.
Inter alia, the Tribunal observed that the gas leak was seemingly a result of failure to comply with the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 that require on-site and off-site Emergency Plans to ensure prevention of damage.
In view thereof, apart from recognizing the Strict Liability of the company, the Tribunal has ordered that the statutory authorities responsible for authorizing and regulating such activities may also be accountable for their lapses, if any, in dealing with the matter.
The matter has now been posted for consideration on May 18.
Meanwhile, the Court has issued notices to various stakeholders to provide them an opportunity of hearing before proceeding to provide statutory relief and compensation to the victims of "environmental damage", and restitution of damaged property and environment.
"With a view to deal with the issue, it is necessary to ascertain the facts relating to the extent of damage, extent of failure and consider remedial measures. The affected parties have to be given the opportunity of being heard," the bench noted while serving notices upon Andhra Pradesh State PCB, District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and LG Polymers India Pvt., Limited.
All the abovementioned parties have been asked to file their response, if any, before May 18.
During the wee hours of Thursday, a major leak of Styrene gas occurred from a polymer plant near Visakhapatnam, impacting villages in a five-km radius, leaving many people dead and scores of citizens suffering from breathlessness and other problems.
Apart from NGT, the National Human Rights Commission had also taken suo moto cognizance of the deaths and human sufferings caused by the tragedy and issued notices to the Central Governance Andhra Pradesh Government.
Case Title: In re: Gas Leak at LG Polymers Chemical Plant in RR Venkatapuram Village Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh
Case No.: Original Application No. 73/2020
Quorum: Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Chairperson; Justice Sheo Kumar Singh, Judicial Member and Dr. Nagin Nanda, Expert Member