Begin typing your search above and press return to search.
Top Stories

[Brahmapuram Fire] NGT Imposes ₹100 Crore Fine On Kochi Corporation For Continued Neglect Of Its Duties

Sheryl Sebastian
18 March 2023 7:02 AM GMT
NGT Directs Auroville Foundation To Apply For EC For Its Township Development Project, Stays Further Construction Till EC Is Obtained

The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal on Friday came down heavily on Kerala state authorities for their failure to manage waste effectively at the Brahmapuram waste dumping yard, which led to a major fire outbreak on March 2 with devastating consequences.

The NGT imposed a fine of Rs. 100 crore on the Kochi Municipal Corporation for the continued neglect of its duties with regard to the site. This amount is to be directed towards appropriate remediation measures for the damage cause by the fire and for addressing public health concerns.

The NGT initiated suo motu proceedings in light of newspaper reports. The NGT placed the blame on the State for the environmental emergency caused due to fire “as a result of utter failure of the State authorities in performing their inalienable basic duties of providing pollution free environment.”

The bench also ordered the Chief Secretary of Kerala to hold accountable the officers responsible for the failures that led to the situation at hand. The bench ordered action to be taken against such officers under both criminal law and through departmental proceedings and for the results of these actions to be made public in two months.

The order was passed by the bench comprising Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Justice Sudhir Agarwal, and Expert Member Dr. A. Senthil Vel. In a scathing order placing sole responsibility of the fire outbreak and resultant damage on the government, the bench stated:

“good governance in the matter of waste management is being neglected for long time to the detriment of environment and public health and no one has taken moral responsibility for such gross failure of rule of law and damage to public health. It is difficult to understand what is the value of citizen’s right to life and safety with such attitude of total neglect by authorities in Government. This calls for soul searching and also high level enquiry to determine culpability in larger public interest.”

The bench was of the view that the State of Kerala and its authorities have rampantly violated the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 and the directions of the Supreme Court in Almitra H. Patel vs. Union of India & Ors. and several orders of the NGT on the matter of solid waste management.

“Such attitude of State authorities is threat to rule of law. We hope the situation is remedied at the higher level in the State such as the DGP and the Chief Secretary to uphold the Constitution and the mandate of environmental law”, the bench stated in its order.

So far, no legal action has been taken against those who have committed criminal offenses under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 and other applicable sections of the Indian Penal Code, the bench said. Additionally it noted that no measures had been taken to address violations of the orders issued by the Supreme Court or the NGT with regard to solid waste management.

“No accountability for such serious failure has been fixed and no senior person has been held accountable so far. Except for giving future plans, no fixing of accountability is proposed even now which is matter of regret.”

The NGT has been monitoring the poor waste management at Brahmapuram for several years now and has passed several orders to intervene in the matter. The NGT in Friday's order made reference to its 2018 order where it had imposed a fine of Rs. 1 Crore on the Cochin Corporation for its delay in setting up a solid waste treatment plant at Brahmapuram in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. In its 2018 order the Tribunal had found that that the authorities had failed to comply with solid waste management rules and that the site had the potential to cause harm to public health, and due to the authorities' persistent negligence, the Tribunal imposed compensation in accordance with the "polluter pays" principle. However, instead of the complying with the said order, the authorities approached the High Court of Kerala for a stay on the order, which was granted, and was only vacated on 13.03.2023 in the wake of the fire, the NGT noted.

In 2021 the Tribunal had passed an order based on the Report of the State Level Monitoring Committee headed by Justice A.V.R. Pillai, former Judge of Kerala High Court, which was constituted to oversee compliance of Solid Waste Management Rules. The Tribunal noted the continuing violation at the site and had stated:

“There is serious dereliction of duties of the State authorities under the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ to provide pollution free environment. No meaningful coercive measures have been adopted as expected from the State PCB as a regulator. The local bodies as well as the Urban Development Department have failed to take effective steps in the matter. We record our disapproval for the lack of sincerity and sensitivity of the authorities to the health of the citizens on flimsy grounds.”

The Tribunal went on to state in its 2021 order:

“the situation is far from satisfactory. One wonders whether the officers dealing with the matter lack in competence or will their Constitutional obligation to provide clean environment to the citizens. Failure to uphold environmental rule of law is no different from maintaining law and order and protecting the citizens against crimes. Continuing violation of environmental norms is not only violation of rights of citizens but also has potential for damage to the public health. It is unfortunate that in spite of several orders of this Tribunal for the last two years the concerned officers have only paid lip service to the issue. There is thus clear governance deficit which needs to be urgently remedied at appropriate highest level in the State. There is failure to enforce environmental laws. We do hope that atleast now prompt action will be taken in the matter failing which the Tribunal may have to adopt coercive measures as per law, including prosecution of concerned officers. Least expected is placing of order for execution of legacy waste biomining, landscaping of the area and plantation, development of bio-diversity park, rectification of the compost plant, continuous monitoring by the Secretary, Urban Development and quarterly review by the Chief Secretary.”

The NGT stated that the reason it was necessary for it to initiate the suo motu proceedings in light of the fire despite pendency of proceedings elsewhere as the issue of waste management has been dealt by the tribunal for the past eight years on directions of the Supreme Court and in light of the earlier orders passed by the tribunal referred above.

The bench stated that it was conscious the fact that the same issue is being dealt with by the Kerala High Court as well. The bench took note of the high level committee constituted by the High Court that has come up with an action plan for scientific handling of waste. The bench made it clear that its order is without prejudice to and subject to the said proceedings of the High Court.

Click here to read/download order

Next Story