The Supreme Court bench comprising justices Kurian Joseph and Rohinton Fali Nariman on August 23, directed State Pollution Control Boards in Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Pondicherry, Jharkhand and Delhi, to inspect the quartz-grinding units in their States within three weeks.
The SPCBs in these States have been especially asked to report on the deficiencies which the Central Pollution Control Board found in such units in Gujarat.
The SPCBs have been strictly told to close down units which have not complied with their directions. The chairpersons of these six SPCBs have been asked submit affidavits about the results of their inspections, and actions taken within 10 weeks. In the absence of such affidavits, the chairpersons have been asked to be personally present on their own expense on the next date of hearing.
The bench took note of the slew of recommendations of the CPCB to the GPCB, in respect of the quartz grinding units in Gujarat. The GPCB has been directed by the SC to close down units which do not comply with the mandatory requirements on prevention of pollution.
The Chairman of the GPCB has been directed to state in an affidavit to be submitted as to what action has been taken for closing down 14 non-operational units in the state. Of the 30 quartz grinding units in the state, 16 operational units were not complying with the statutory mandate, and the rest 14 were found either permanently or temporarily closed.
Earlier, the bench recorded its appreciation of the fact that the district collectors of Jhabua, and Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh, have distributed the compensation payable to the families of the victims of silicosis, which they contracted while working in the units of Gujarat.
Of the 85 victims in Jhabua, families of 75 have received compensation. Of the remaining 10, it was reported that one is alive, and the district collector sought more time to finalise the distribution to the rest. The Collector of Alirajpur claimed that he had distributed compensation to the families of all the 153 victims.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and some NGOs disputed the claim of Madhya Pradesh that all the 334 persons, affected by Silicosis, have been rehabilitated. The bench, therefore, asked the District Legal Services Authority of Jhabua, Alirajpur, and Dhar, to report as to whether rehabilitation benefits actually have reached the victims.
The bench also directed the chief secretaries of the seven States including Gujarat and the duty-holders to file affidavits about the state of compliance with existing laws and regulations to prevent Silicosis in their respective States, and the medical rehabilitation and the distribution of monetary compensation to the victims and their families.
The bench has fixed September 27 as the next date of hearing to monitor the progress in Gujarat and November 29 when it will take stock of the feedback from the remaining six states.
Read the order here.