The National Green Tribunal has slammed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for non-utilisation of over Rs 800 crore meant towards Environment Relief Fund for victims of accidents in the process of handling hazardous substances.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice S K Singh noted that Public Liabilities Insurance Act provides that United India Insurance Company Ltd. Shall be the Fund Manager for five years who shall open an account in a nationalized bank and credit the amount of premium received as well as the amount awarded by the tribunal.
“It is acknowledged that an amount of Rs 881 crore has been deposited till March 31, 2020 with the Fund Manager, United India Insurance Company Ltd, there is no information whether any amount has been utilised.
“We find it to be travesty of justice that even after 29 years of the enactment of a laudable welfare legislation and inspite of deposit of huge amount meant for the needy victims, the amount remains unutilised to the detriment of the victims for whose benefit the law was enacted,” the bench said.
The NGT said there is an urgent need for bridging gaps in existence and enforcement of such law by all concerned.
“The MoEF being nodal Ministry may look into this aspect and take necessary action. Industrial chemical accidents lead to injury to workers and fatalities.
“There is need to link Liability Risk Policies to be taken by the industries under the PLI Act, 1991 with the consent conditions under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 as well as Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Rules,” the bench said.
State pollution control boards may ensure that industries required to take policies under PLI Act, 1991 are not granted with consents under the Water and Air Acts and the Authorization under Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 till such a policy is obtained, the bench said.
“We also request the National Legal Service Authority and the State Legal Service Authorities, constituted under the Legal Service Authority Act, 1987, for assistance to the victims of injustice to access justice to look into the matter and take such action as may be found appropriate at their end,” the bench said.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by retired government official Gyan Prakash highlighting the non-utilisation of more than Rs 800 crore meant towards Environment Relief Fund under the Public Liabilities Insurance Act, 1991 (PLI Act, 1991) for victims of accidents in the process of handling hazardous substances.
The plea said the fund is lying unutilised and the purpose for which law was enacted is not being achieved.
The victims are suffering on account of ignorance and even Collectors who are required to publish information are not doing so, the plea said.