• The National Green Tribunal (NGT) slapped a fine of Rs 100 crore on the Kochi corporation for the fire at waste dump site in Brahmapuram. The civic body has been asked to deposit the money with the chief secretary in a month.
• The NGT pulled up the Kerala government over the disastrous fire at Brahmapuram solid waste treatment plant that led to severe air pollution in the city of Kochi for nearly two weeks earlier this month.
• A bench headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel put the onus on the state government after taking up the case voluntarily based on media reports.
• The tribunal held the government responsible for the fire, the delay in putting it out and the resultant threat to public health.
What happened in Brahmapuram?
• Kochi city was choked on account of fire at Brahmapuram solid waste management plant on March 2, 2023 which led to crisis situation. Warning was issued to the residents to stay indoors and asking the hospitals to prepare emergency admission of patients with respiratory distress to deal with severe air pollution and its worrying public health fallout.
• The dump site is spread over 100 acres of land and processing plant has capacity of waste processing of 300 tonnes per day. Contract to process the waste has been given to a contractor but only 33 per cent of the work has been completed. Several major and minor fires earlier have broken out at the site.
• The present incident occurred on March 2, 2023 at 5.30 pm. The Fire and Rescue Department took measures to control the fire. Naval helicopters were deployed to airdrop water over the fire heaps.
• The fire that erupted in the plant was completely doused by March 13 and the situation has been brought under control.
• Dioxins were detected and quantified in ambient air, residual ash and sediment samples collected from the premises of the waste dump yard during fire break out.
Key points of NGT’s verdict:
• It is self-evident that good governance in the matter of waste management is being neglected for a 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.
• Except for giving future plans, no fixing of accountability is proposed even now which is matter of regret.
• No prosecution has been launched against the guilty for criminal offences under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and also under relevant provisions of IPC nor action taken for violation of orders of Supreme Court and repeated orders of this tribunal. Such an attitude of state authorities is threat to rule of law.
• NGT awards environment compensation under section 15 of the NGT Act against Kochi Municipal Corporation of Rs 100 crore which may be deposited with the chief secretary, Kerala within one month for necessary remediation measures, including dealing with the public health issues of the victims.
National Green Tribunal
• The National Green Tribunal (NGT) was established on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
• It is a specialised body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.
• NGT has five places of sitting — the principal bench at New Delhi and zonal benches at Pune, Kolkata, Bhopal and Chennai.
• The Tribunal is headed by the chairperson who sits in the principal bench and has at least ten but not more than twenty judicial members and at least ten but not more than twenty expert members.
• Any person seeking relief and compensation for environmental damage involving subjects in the legislations mentioned in Schedule I of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 may approach the Tribunal.
Why was NGT set up?
• The precursor to the NGT Act was the 186th Report of the Law Commission of India submitted in March 2003 which came after the Supreme Court repeatedly urged Parliament through various judgments to establish specialised environmental courts, with qualified judges and technical experts on the bench.
• The Supreme Court also put forward that there should be direct appeals to the Supreme Court from such environmental courts.
• The Law Commission then recommended creation of a specialised court to deal with the environmental issues. The Law Commission expressed the view that it is not convenient for the High Courts and the Supreme Court to make local inquiries or to receive evidence.
• Moreover, the superior Courts will not have access to expert environmental scientists on permanent basis to assist them.
• The NGT was conceived as a complementary specialised forum to deal with all multidisciplinary environmental issues, both as original as well as an appellate authority.
• The specialised forum was also made free from the rules of evidence applicable to normal courts and was permitted to lay down its own procedure to entertain oral and documentary evidence, consult experts, etc with specific mandate to observe the principles of natural justice.
• The right to a healthy environment has been construed as a part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution in the judicial pronouncement in India.
• The NGT is set up under the constitutional mandate under Entry 13 List I of Schedule VII to enforce Article 21 in regard to the environment and the Tribunal was conferred special jurisdiction for enforcement of environmental rights.
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