Environmental pollution is a reality and so are its effects, now prevalent and prominent more than ever before and recent United Nations Assessment Report sounds the bugle at how alarming rate "humans are speeding extinction and altering the natural world at an 'unprecedented' pace" by altering the natural world through environmental pollution. In this context, every effort at environmental protection counts and orders from National Green Tribunal assume greater significance.
One such order was passed by Principal Bench NGT in Ashwani Kumar Dubey v. Union of India & Ors., whereby different concerned units, which were found to be adding to the pollution levels, were directed to take steps within the prescribed timelines and to ensure adherence to such timelines. Tribunal further directed the said units to furnish mandatorily Performance Guarantees to the extent assessed by the Committee that submitted its report to Tribunal. The Performance Guarantee, said Tribunal, may be furnished to the satisfaction of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Coram comprising of Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Judicial member Justice S.P.Wangdi, Judicial member Justice K. Ramakrishnan and expert member Nagin Nanda, passed the order.
Tribunal said that Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) & State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) have statutory powers to take remedial steps to check air and water pollution and can take steps towards that end.
Main Issue before the Tribunal
The main application before the Tribunal raised the issue of pollution caused by the Thermal Power Plants (TPPs) in Districts of Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh and Sonebhadra in Uttar Pradesh. The pollution was being caused by discharge of mercury, storage of fly ash, transportation of coal, etc. In the course of proceedings, the Tribunal had constituted a Core Committee and four Sub-Committees to assist the Core Committee. Thereafter, two Supervisory Committees were constituted for implementation of recommendations of the Core Committee, headed by the Secretaries of Environment Department of the two States.
Report by Core Committee
Finally, a report of February 2018 was submitted to the Tribunal on 3rd April, 2018 by the Core Committee headed by former Director, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Dr. Tapan Chakraborty and also comprising representatives of other expert bodies.
Recommendations in the Report
Recommendations in the report included:
• Installation of Ash Water Recycling System (AWRs) and Electrostatic Precipitators (ESPs) in the thermal power plants.
• Renovation of ash dykes.
• Better utilization of fly ash.
• Safeguards in transportation and maintenance of pipelines.
Further recommendations in respect of individual industries related to:
• Reduction of emission levels.
• Regulating seepage of leachates from red mud dumps in the groundwater.
• Proper operation of ETP (Effluent Treatment Plant).
• Utilizing fly ash for back-filling in abandoned mines.
Besides these, recommendations were also made for pollution control measures to be taken by the stone crushers in the area. It was also suggested that carrying capacity of region be assessed before any expansion of the existing industries and also to have proper monitoring systems for air quality monitoring at appropriate locations.
The District Administrations were advised to take measures to neutralize the adverse effect of coal transportation, to take steps for restoration of the Rihand reservoir, to take care of the demand for potable water and also to take steps to deal with the health issues of the inhabitants.
Oversight Committee Constituted
The report was accepted by the NGT vide order dated 28.08.2018, after hearing learned Counsel for the parties. To comply with the recommendations in the report, an Oversight Committee headed by a former Judge of Allahabad High Court was constituted. The Committee also has the representatives of CPCB, State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) and the District Magistrates. The Committee was to make a time bound action plan by utilizing the services of technical experts. The District Magistrates were to act as coordinators.
Report Submitted By Oversight Committee
The report dated 14.12.2018 was received by the Tribunal from the Chairman of the Oversight Committee. The Committee gave the status of compliance of the recommendations of the Core Committee. It observed that Ash Water Recycling Systems (AWRs) and Electrostatic Precpitators (ESPs) are reported to be functional. Online Continuous Emission Monitoring Systems (OCEMS) are connected to the Central Pollution Control Board/State Pollution Control Board servers. Three Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring System (CAAQMS) are to be installed, it reported. Ash ponds were overflowing in the Rihand reservoir which was illegal. Thermal Power Plants (TPPs) were advised to explore use of fly ash in road constructions. TPPs were also required to supply fly ash free of cost or as per prescribed norms.
Steps, report said, should be taken to explore transportation by railway and until then precaution should be taken in the transportation by road. Precautions, it said, were required in disposal of the red mud. Steps, it said, were required to be taken for achieving ZLD by M/s. Hindalco Industries Ltd. M/s. Aditya Birla Chemicals was to maintain hazardous waste in safe manner. M/s. Northern Coalfields Limited was to consider the issue of Gorbi mine for filling of fly ash, it reported.
Whole matter is still being monitored by the Committee, said NGT, and without going into further details of the report, it pinpointed Committee's summary conclusion while asking the Oversight Committee to oversee the execution of the directions of the Tribunal:
"The Committee has deliberated all the issues with Private stake holders (Industries), Public Sector Units (TPPs, NCL), NGOs and local District Administrations. The status of outcome of meetings and field visits are tabulated above. Time line has been defined for compliance of each direction issued by Hon'ble NGT. The follow-up is needed by the Oversight Committee with stake holders through meetings and field visits for timely implementation of various directions."
Oversight Committee had also suggested that that there are other thermal power plants and stone crushers in other districts of the State of Uttar Pradesh where similar problems exist and where due attention is not being paid, including Bara Thermal Power, Allahabad, Meja Thermal Plant, Allahabad, Dadri Thermal Power Plant, Dadri Distt., Allahabad and stone crushers at Meja, Distt. Allahabad.
Acceptance of the Oversight Committee's Report and Directions by NGT
NGT accepted the recommendations of the Committee and requested the Committee to attend to the similar issues at other places that it had mentioned in its report, with further direction that the District Magistrates of the concerned districts will be the coordinators.
Tribunal said that the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have statutory powers to take remedial steps to check air and water pollution and, thus, even in absence of any specific direction with regard to the above power plants or stone crushers, within the framework of existing norms the Committee, which also has representatives of SPCBs and CPCB, can look into the issues of air and water pollution and other allied issues, including the remedial steps, subject to any further direction of the Tribunal. It further said that the Committee may give quarterly reports to the Tribunal about the steps taken. If any steps are taken by the SPCB, the same may also be brought to the notice of the Committee, it said.
It further directed Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) and Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) to furnish the existing status of ambient air quality and water quality of Rihand reservoir and other water bodies including groundwater to the Oversight Committee.
Directions were also given to the State Health Secretaries of MP and UP to provide report on health status of the citizens of the affected areas and the trends of diseases relating to pollution to the Committee at the earliest or preferably within two months from the passage of the order. Further Tribunal directed, on priority, long term plan for providing potable water through pipelines etc. to be executed with firm time lines.