As rampant dumping of bio-medical, industrial and slaughterhouse waste and litter continues to pollute river Periyar, also known as the Lifeline of Kerala; its forests and highways, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has constituted a joint committee to prepare an action plan to ensure compliance with Bio-Medical waste and Solid Waste Management Rules and to assess damage already caused to the environment while identifying the polluters from whom damages have to be recovered.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice AK Goel said, "…we constitute a Joint Committee of CPCB, Kerala SPCB and District Magistrate to forthwith prepare an action plan for compliance of law particularly the bio-medical waste and solid waste management Rules and furnish an action taken report within one month to the Tribunal…"
"The committee will also assess the damages caused to the environment and the persons from whom the same are to be recovered".
The tribunal also rapped the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) for covering up its inaction on polluting health care units and industries with lame excuses such as hilly terrain obstructing frequent monitoring of hospitals and industries, workload and shortage of manpower.
"A regulatory body entrusted with statutory duties cannot take a plea that it is not able to do its duty. If such plea is to be accepted, it means nobody has accountability. Whether more staff is required or how situation is to be managed is not to be explained by the victims of pollution but by the concerned statutory authority itself".
The bench said so while hearing a matter initiated on a letter received from Justice R Bhaskaran, former judge of the Kerala High Court, regarding rampant dumping of hospitals and slaughterhouses waste into river Periyar.
The petition was transferred to the NGT by the Kerala High Court and has been under the tribunal's consideration for over four years now.
In these four years, the bench was served with a Joint Inspection Report by the KSPCB and the Central Pollution Control Board, which identified dumping of bio-medical waste and solid waste into the deep slopes, mostly in uninhabited forest area.
Along vast stretches of State Highway 44 and National Highway 49, solid waste like slaughter waste (poultry), animal skeleton/bone, market waste, disposable catering items, construction waste, plastic wastes, glass waste, huge quantity of discarded fabrics (polyester screen), refrigerator insulator waste (PUF), paint container waste, ceramics waste, electronic trash wastes etc., besides waste from tourist activity was also observed.
The hospitals were found lacking permissions from the KSPCB while another Joint Inspection Report by CPCB and SPCB identified M/s. Rajakkad Medical Center, Rajakkad, responsible for the dumping of bio-medical waste and M/s. St. Johns Medical Centre, Rajakkad, for partially disposing bio-medical waste.
The KSPCB submitted before the tribunal that it has its field offices at district level only, except in Ernakulam district, and the number of industries and other units in the district range from 4,000 to 8,000. Since the work load and manpower available with board is inadequate, the help of the local bodies is required, it said.
It further submitted that it was unable to conduct frequent monitoring of hospitals and other units of the said area as it is forest and hilly terrain and most of the hospitals and industries are in that region.
"The submission itself shows failure of the State PCB and effort to justify such failure on untenable arguments. We hope the State PCB will manage its affairs remedying its unsatisfactory working. As noted in the Aryavart Foundation Vs. M/s. Vapi Green Enviro Ltd. & Ors., there is dire need for revamping of Pollution Control Boards for their effective working and steps need to be taken in the matter," said the bench.
The matter is now listed for consideration of the report of the joint committee on April 8.
Read the Order Here