The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday directed NTPC Vindhyachal Super Thermal Power Station, situated in Madhya Pradesh, to deposit a sum of Rs. 10 crore with the State Pollution Control Board, towards interim compensation for environmental damage.
The direction has come in an application filed by Advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, in wake of a breach in the "Fly Ash Dyke" of the power plant, leading to contamination of Rihand Reservoir, the only source of drinking water for the people of Singrauli (MP) and Sonebhadra (UP) districts.
In the earlier orders, the Tribunal had directed remedial action and had constituted an Oversight Committee (OC) headed by Justice, Rajesh Kumar, former Judge of the Allahabad High Court.
The Committee had found that a large portion of Ash Dyke had been breached with the result huge quantity of fly ash had spread all over the land, and travelling up to the Rihand reservoir. It had therefore recommended an interim deposit of Rs. 10 crore.
The findings of the Committee were agitated by the power plant which argued that the observation of the Oversight Committee were "completely erroneous" and "unsubstantiated".
It had submitted that the breach was plugged within 30 hours; there was no transfer of fly ash to the Reservoir and the compensation of Rs. 10 Crores was unjustified.
Rejecting this argument however, the bench comprised by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), Justice SP Wangdi (Judicial Member), Dr. Satyawan Singh Garbyal (Expert Member) and Dr. Nagin Nanda (Expert Member) remarked,
"Mere self-serving denial in the face of report based on site visit by a Committee appointed by this Court headed by a former judge of the High Court has no legs to stand. Responsible organisations should refrain from adopting such attitude. We uphold the report of the OC."
The bench proceeded to consider the report of the Joint Committee constituted by the Tribunal, to assess the damage to environment being caused by the thermal power stations, and it directed:
- Fly ash disposal may be undertaken as per the directions in the order of the Tribunal dated 12.02.2020;
- Fly ash disposal in mounds and backfilling of ash in abandoned mines may be undertaken as per the CPCB guidelines;
- Report of the CPCB regarding Cost apportionment for desilting/restoration of Rihand Reservoir is accepted and further steps, including further study be undertaken as recommended by the CPCB;
- Anpara TPS and Lanco-Anpara power plants may stop ash pond overflow discharge into Rihand Reservoir to the extent the work remains unexecuted;
- The NTPC, Vidhyachal may deposit amount of Rs. 10 Crores as recommended by the Oversight Committee with the State PCB towards interim compensation, deducting the mount already deposited;
- The liability for environmental compensation in respect of UPVUN, Anpara and NTPC Vidhyachal may be assessed by joint Committee of CPCB and the State PCB within two months.
The Petitioner had earlier approached the Supreme Court seeking directions in this regard. However, the matter was later withdrawn with liberty to approach the NGT.
Last year, the NGT had asked NTPC Aravali Power and Jhajjar Power about their current status of fly ash disposal and management and an action plan with a timeline, on a complaint that huge amount of fly ash had been accumulating in the surrounding areas.
A similar matter, relating to dumping fly ash, bottom ash, toxic residue and other industrial/ solid waste in the Reservoir by the Reliance owned Sasan Ultra Mega Power Project is also pending before the Tribunal.
Through an order dated July 14, 2020, the matter has been clubbed with another case titled Hiralal Bais v. Reliance Sasan Power P. Ltd. Ors., and has been transferred to the Principal Bench of the Tribunal in New Delhi.
Case Title: Ashwani Kumar Dubey v. Union of India & Ors.
Case No.: Original Application No. 164/2018
Appearance: Advocate Pankaj Sharma (for Petitioner); ASG KM Nataraj with Advocate Sailesh Madiyal (for Vindhyachal Super Thermal Power Station); ASG Sanjay Jain with Advocate Nikhil Kandpal (for Anpara Thermal Power Station); ad Raj Kumar (for CPCB); Advocate Daleep Dhyani (for UPPCB)