In a major setback to industrial activity, the principal bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) has barred the state pollution control boards from issuing consents for expansion or setting up of new units under the ‘red’ and ‘orange’ categories of industries until the critically and severely polluting industrial areas (PIA), identified across the country are brought within the prescribed parameters or till carrying capacity study of each of the areas is carried out.
However, in the list of 100 PIAs submitted to the NGT by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), there is no mention of Goa even as the state has over 2,000 units under the ‘orange’ and ‘red’ categories.
The NGT has also clarified that there is no bar on new units being set up in the ‘red’ or ‘orange’ categories which may not in any manner add to pollution, provided viability of such units on ‘precautionary’ principle is determined by an appropriate mechanism to be devised by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to ensure that the new legitimate activity or expansion can take place after due precautions are taken by the ‘red’ and ‘orange’ category units with regard to the areas in question.
The precautionary principle states that when an activity raises threat of harm to human health or environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are
not fully established scientifically.
“There is no absolute bar on such units being set up if they are found to be viable. This clarification should take care of any possible apprehension that the order of the Tribunal will obstruct any legitimate industrial activity,” the order reads.
Taking serious note of CPCB’s compiled data on 100 polluting industrial areas, a bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said no further industrial activity or expansion be allowed with regard to ‘red’ and ‘orange’ category units till these polluting industrial areas are brought within the prescribed parameters or till carrying capacity of area is assessed and new units or expansion is found viable having regard to the carrying capacity of the area and environmental norms.
The NGT has further directed the CPCB to not only prohibit operation of polluting activity in the PIAs falling in Critically Polluted Areas (CPA) and Severally Polluted Areas (SPA) within three months but also to make an assessment of compensation to be recovered from these units for the period of last five years, taking into account the cost of restoration and cost of damage to the public health and environment and the deterrence element. The order further mentions that the scale of deterrence may be related to the period and the frequency of defaults.
There is tough time ahead for the polluting industries, as the NGT has also directed the CPCB to compile separate information with regard to these PIAs, based on the norms of water pollution, air pollution and other pollution and notify such information in public domain within three months and take action against such units including closure of such units.
“The essence of rule of law is that no activity which is against the law is allowed to continue and the person violating the law is punished according to law. We have seen that even when norms of air, water and other pollution are being violated, prosecution, stopping of polluting activities and recovery of compensation is not taking place. Unless the polluting industries tackle the problem they have created, their operations have to be stopped/suspended,” the order states.
The NGT directive also calls for an action taken report by January 31, 2020, from the chairmen of state pollution control boards showing the number of identified polluters in polluted industrial areas, the extent of closure of polluting activities, the extent of environmental compensation recovered and the cost of restoration of the damage to the environment of the said areas.
The NGT has further warned of coercive action against chairmen and member secretaries of the state pollution control boards, if they fail to submit the report. The action may include replacement of persons heading such pollution control boards or direction to stop their salaries till meaningful action is taken for compliance of the order of NGT. The NGT has also ordered the CPCB to prepare a tabulated analysis of the report and file a consolidated report before February 15, 2020.