The National Green Tribunal has ordered the Central Pollution Control Board to revisit its guidelines categorizing poultry farms with less than one lakh birds in the "green category" and exempting their regulation under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Environmental Protection Act, 1986.
The Tribunal has issued directions to the CPCB and the State PCBs/PCCs to strictly enforce environmental norms on the functioning of poultry farms with more than 5000 birds. Furthermore, the Tribunal has ordered CPCB to issue fresh order(s) requiring such poultry farms to obtain consent from the Pollution Control Boards in the same manner as is required from poultry farms with more than 1 lakh birds. The consent mechanism has to be mandatorily enforced by the PCBs from 1st January 2021 even if CPCB fails to pass an order in this regard, the Tribunal clarified.
"Leaving the field of poultry farm below one lakhs birds unregulated is failure to protect environment, as required under the Water Act, 1974 and the Air Act, 1981. Mere requirement for poultry farms with more than 5000 birds to register with the local bodies could be no substitute for the statutory regulations (Water Act, Air Act, and Environment Protection Act) nor CPCB has any statutory Authority to delegate its powers to the local bodies. The categorization of poultry industry as green by the MoEF&CC is also arbitrary and not based on any logic."
The order was issued by the Principal Bench of the Tribunal comprising Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Justice S.P. Wangdi and Dr. Nagin Nanda in an application filed by Gauri Maulekhi against CPCB guidelines dated 20 October 2015 that exempt poultry farms with less than 1 lakh birds from the requirement of obtaining consent for operation from the State Pollution Board. The order of CPCB dated 29th February, 2016 that categorized commercial poultry farming as a green category was also challenged by the applicant.
The Tribunal agreed with the contention of the applicant that the waste generated by poultry farms in their natural course on account of the fecal matter of the birds harms the environment and safeguards must be adopted to prevent such harm. The Bench also noted that use of pest antibiotics in farms has great potential for diseases among the animals and the humans and relied on reports by NEERI and the Law Commission in this regard.
The applicant had raised concerns regarding the environmental impact of the intensive battery cages poultry farms where thousands of birds are intensively confined to a very small space (each bird has an area less than an A4 sheet). It submitted that in order to maintain birds in such intensive confinement, non-therapeutic antibiotics are administered to them which harm the health of animals and humans who consume their products. The waste generated out of such farms is also a source of odor, pests, and insects in the nearby areas which hamper the lifestyle of communities situated around such farms. The applicant contended that the only way to ensure cleanliness is to adopt hygienic cage free methods of farming and submitted that the current unhygienic conditions of poultry farms call for effective regulation by the PCBs. Further the applicant made the following averments:
1. Due to intensive confinement, the level of waste generated out of each farm is high and such waste is seldom disposed scientifically.
2. There is an intense odor that emanating from these farms which affects the entire neighborhood and is a source of blatant nuisance.
3. Pests such as flies, ticks, lice, mites, maggots, scavenging birds and even stray dogs are routinely attracted to the poultry farms. This makes it difficult for the people living in the vicinity to such farms to eat, work or to perform their day-to-day activities.
4. The administration of non-therapeutic antibiotics to birds causes antibiotic resistance in the human beings who consume eggs or meat of such birds.
5.. The emissions from the poultry farms include gases like ammonia, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) that affect the life of the people living in that vicinity.
6. The poultry farms use large quantity of pesticides and antibiotics in their feeds that contaminate the soil and ground water thereby compromising public health.
7. Crowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions of these facilities give rise to disease, including avian influenza.
Several reports and studies were cited by the applicant in support of these averments. The CPCB, Environment Ministry and Central Drug Standard Control Organization failed to justify the exemption given to poultry farms with less than 1 lakh birds or the central issues brought forward in the application to the Tribunal.
The Tribunal thus stated that
Sustainable development is part of right to life. The State Authorities are under obligation to protect environment as per sustainable development concept. Responsibilities of the States to the environment are by Public Trust Doctrine, The Water Act, the Air Act, and the Environment (Protection) Act have been enacted in the wake of international conventions and override all other legislations. They create obligation on the regulatory authorities to enforce the environmental measures. There is no discretion to exempt the mandate of mandate of Water Act for activities having potential to cause water pollution. It has not been disputed that the operation of poultry farms has potential to damage to the environment which needs to be regulated.
The Tribunal has ordered CPCB to revise its guidelines and to issue fresh appropriate orders within three months. All State PCBs/PCCs will require enforcement of consent mechanism from January, 2021 to poultry farms with more than 5000 birds even failing an order by CPCB in this regard. Till then, State PCBs have been ordered to strictly enforce environment norms on these farms even without a consent mechanism and to take appropriate remedial action against the any violation of water, air and soil standards statutorily laid down.