Panaji: The principal bench of National Green Tribunal has made all railway stations across the country to compulsorily obtain consent to operate from state pollution control boards as several activities of railway establishments have potential of causing pollution which attracts provisions of the Water Act, the Air Act and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Presently, none of the stations obtains consents under the Air Act and Water Act, and authorisation under the Hazardous Waste (Management and Trans-boundary Movement) Rules 2016.
A three-member bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel has said the rules framed apply to every generator of waste and occupier of the place where waste is generated. Undoubtedly, the railway premises are such places. The railway administration is the occupier of such places where waste is generated.
The NGT passed this order while hearing a petition filed by lawyers Saloni Singh and Arush Pathania seeking steps to check pollution on railway properties, particularly on tracks.
“There cannot be any blanket exclusion of or exemption from the regulatory regime for major railway stations. Thus, all major railway stations must secure consent to establish/expansion and consent to operate under the Water Act and the Air Act within three months, failing which the state board will take necessary action under the provisions of the Water Act and the Air Act in accordance with law,” the order has said.
The order has pointed out that major railway stations generate solid waste, discharge waste water as well as release gaseous emissions unless shown to the contrary.
“It is, thus, clear that wherever there is significant generation of solid and liquid waste and gaseous emissions, the Water Act and the Air Act are attracted so that regulatory functions can be exercised,” the bench has said.
The stand of the Railways is that railway stations are not required to obtain consent under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (The Water Act), the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1984 (The Air Act) and authorisation under Hazardous Materials Act, 2016 since no production/manufacturing activities take place at railway stations.
The counsel of the railway authorities relied upon the notification issued by the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change on March 2016 on the subject of categorisation of industries which puts the Railways in a list of ‘other categories’ and therefore the Water Act, the Air Act and the Hazardous Rules are not applicable to the Railways.
“We are unable to read the said notification to mean that the railway stations or the activities of the railway administration do not attract the Air Act, the Water Act or the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (The EP Act). The fact that the MoEF&CC has included railway activities in the list of some of the categories, including ‘red category’ of industries, is an indication that the MoEF&CC treats the railway administration to be within the purview of the EP Act as the said categorisation itself is with reference to the said act,” the order has explained.
The green court has ordered setting up of a team comprising officials of the CPCB and the concerned state pollution control board to evaluate the performance of 36 major railway stations both in terms of implementation of action plans and compliance to the provisions of the Water Act, the Air Act and the Environmental Protection Act and Rules framed thereunder.
The green watchdog has also ordered state pollution control boards to submit reports with regard to compliance of Section 25 of the Water Act 1974 and Section 21 of the Air Act, 1981 of such railway stations by March 31, 2020.
The NGT had earlier directed the Railways to identify and develop at least 36 stations as ‘eco-smart stations’ and to submit an action plan on maintaining cleanliness on platforms and tracks in respect of solid and liquid waste disposal and prevention of open defecation on railway tracks.
The CPCB told the bench that out of 36 stations, five stations –Vadodara, Mysuru, Jaipur, Bilaspur and Vishakhapatnam – are in the ‘good’ category and have achieved ISO 14001 certification.
However, as none of the stations has obtained consents under the Air Act and Water Act and authorisation under Hazardous Waste (Management and Trans-boundary Movement) Rules 2016, none of them can be certified as “eco-smart”.
However, the court has disapproved the action plans placed before them as they do not ensure that the environmental aspects are adequately addressed.