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Virudhunagar Firecracker Blast: Supreme Court Sets Aside NGT's Order Directing 20 Lakhs Compensation; Remands Matter For Fresh Consideration

Shruti Kakkar
22 Jan 2022 2:10 PM GMT
Virudhunagar Firecracker Blast: Supreme Court Sets Aside NGTs Order Directing 20 Lakhs Compensation; Remands Matter For Fresh Consideration
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The Supreme Court on Friday set aside the National Green Tribunal's order directing the State of Tamil Nadu to pay 20 lakhs and Rs 15 lakhs compensation to the heirs of the deceased who died and were injured in the Virudhunagar firecracker factory blast on February 12, 2021.The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari was considering a civil appeal filed by Tamil Nadu Fireworks...

The Supreme Court on Friday set aside the National Green Tribunal's order directing the State of Tamil Nadu to pay 20 lakhs and Rs 15 lakhs compensation to the heirs of the deceased who died and were injured in the Virudhunagar firecracker factory blast on February 12, 2021.

The bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari was considering a civil appeal filed by Tamil Nadu Fireworks And Amorces Manufacturers Association assailing National Green Tribunal's order dated June 11, 2021 ("impugned order").

In the impugned order, NGT had directed the State of Tamil Nadu through DM, Virudhunagar to pay compensation of Rs 20 lakhs to the deceased victims, Rs 15 lakhs to persons who have burns in excess of 50%, Rs 10 lakhs for the ones having burns from 25 to 50% and Rs 5 lakh to persons having injuries between 5 to 25%.

Directions were also issued to the State to pay compensation of Rs 2 lakhs to the victims treated as outpatients and who had but minor degree of burns or other forms of simple injuries.

One of the questions raised in the civil appeal was with regards to the jurisdiction of NGT to initiate suo moto proceedings.

The bench on this aspect noted that in the impugned judgment the matter proceeded ex parte since in spite of notice, the authorities and concerned parties did not enter appearance.

The bench referred to its judgement in "Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai vs. Ankita Sinha & Ors. which held that even if NGT were to initiate suo moto action, it must put every person likely to be affected by its decision to notice and give opportunity of hearing before passing final orders. In this backdrop, the bench in the interest of justice set aside the impugned judgement and relegated the parties before the NGT.

Accordingly, in its order, bench said,

"The primary question raised in the appeals about the jurisdiction of the National Green Tribunal to initiate suo motu proceedings stands concluded in terms of the decision of this Court in "Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai vs. Ankita Sinha & Ors." reported in 2021 SCC Online SC 897.

As has been mentioned in the said judgment, the Tribunal, even if were to initiate suo motu action, must put every person likely to be affected by its decision, to notice and give opportunity of hearing before passing final orders.

In the impugned judgment, it is noted that in spite of notice, the authorities and concerned parties did not enter the appearance. In that sense, the matter proceeded ex parte against the concerned parties including the appellants.

Accordingly, in the interest of justice, we deem it appropriate to set aside the impugned judgment and order and relegate the parties before the National Green Tribunal for reconsideration of the entire matter afresh after giving opportunity to the concerned parties including the appellants, and to pass appropriate orders in accordance with law."

The bench further directed the parties to appear before the NGT on February 14, 2022 and also asked the Tribunal to either proceed with the matter or assign a suitable date for hearing.

Case Before National Green Tribunal

NGT had initiated proceedings based on the media report published in "The New Indian Express" dated February 12, 2021 in which 19 persons died and 30 persons were injured critically in the process of filling crackers with chemical in Sree Mariyammal Fireworks-factory at Achankulam Village in Virudhunagar District at 01:30 pm. The families whose members were killed were given compensation of Rs 2 lakhs and Rs 50,000/- was given to the families of those who were critically injured.

On February 16, 2021 the Tribunal issued notice to the parties. It also constituted an 8 members Committee headed by Justice K Kannan for ascertaining the cause of incident, extent of damage and remedial measures required.

The bench proceeded further in the matter based on the factual situation depicted in the report, since, irrespective of issuance of notice to the State of Tamilnadu, District Magistrate, Virudhnagar, TN PCB, CPCB and Sree Mariyammal Fireworks-factory and interaction by the eight-member Committee with concerned stakeholders, none entered appearance.

Agreeing with the Committee, the bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel, Sudhir Agarwal, M. Sathyanarayanan, Brijesh Sethi and Dr Nagin Nanda, directed the State of Tamil Nadu through DM, Virudhunagar to pay compensation of Rs 20 lakhs to the deceased victims, Rs 15 lakhs to persons who have burns in excess of 50%, Rs 10 lakhs for the ones having burns from 25 to 50% and Rs 5 lakh to persons having injuries between 5 to 25%. Directions were also issued to the State to pay compensation of Rs 2 lakhs to the victims treated as outpatients and who had but minor degree of burns or other forms of simple injuries.

The bench had also asked for ensuring payment of the amount within one month from the date of order and further asked to deduct the ex gratia amount already paid from the Compensation. Request was also made to the TN State Legal Services authority to provide legal aid to ensure that payment is made to genuine heirs of the deceased and to the injured without undue hassle.

"Apart from the measures suggested by the Committee, there is also a need for a study of the carrying capacity of the area to sustain the extent of such activities having regard to the potential for accidental, occupational and environmental hazards. The study may include number of units to be allowed, size of operation of such units, quantity of material to be used, siting criteria for location of the units, arrangement for fire management and health services. Let such study be conducted by the Director of Industrial Safety in coordination with the State PCB and CPCB within three months and a report submitted to the Chief Secretary, Tamil Nadu for further action. The Committee may take the assistance of any other experts/individual," bench had further directed.

Case Title: Tamil Nadu Fireworks And Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA) v. State Of Tamil Nadu & Ors.| Civil Appeal No(S).423 OF 2022

Coram: Justices AM Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari

Click Here To Read/Download Order 

Click Here To Read/Download NGT's Order



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