Tribunal directs four companies to cough up ₹286 crore for causing air pollution

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said that conditions prevailing in Mahul, Ambapada, and Chembur are sometimes likened to that of a ‘gas chamber’, in an order passed last week directing four Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), Sea Lord Containers Limited (SLCL), and Aegis Logistics Limited (ALL) to pay fines of ₹286 crore for causing air pollution.

An NGT bench of chairperson Justice Adarsh Goel, Justice S.P. Wangdi, and judicial member Satyawan Garbyal was hearing a plea on August 13, which sought execution of an NGT order passed on December 18, 2015, for controlling air pollution in the areas. The order relied upon a report submitted by KEM Hospital, Mumbai.

The 61-page judgement said, “Major contributors to the air pollution were said to be the logistic services, storing of oil, gas and chemical items, and oil companies releasing emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during loading, storage and unloading or handling of hazardous chemicals at various stages.”

The Tribunal found that there was deterioration of ambient air quality causing threat to health of the residents.

Accordingly, the Tribunal directed the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board to prepare a comprehensive action plan for control of air pollution.

A health impact assessment study was directed to be carried out, apart from a VOC assessment study. The Tribunal issued other incidental directions for prevention and remedial action by the operators of various projects as well as regulatory authorities.

The bench directed HPCL to pay ₹76.5 crore, BPCL to pay ₹67.5 crore, ALL to pay ₹142 crore, and SLCL to pay ₹0.2 crore, and held the companies responsible for released emissions of 199.9 kg per day, 176.57 kg per day, 372.54 kg per day and 0.53 kg per day, respectively.

The NGT also directed a 10-member joint committee to be set up comprising two senior nominees of the Central Pollution Control Board, representative of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, State Pollution Control Board, District Magistrate, Mumbai, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai, KEM Hospital, Mumbai, and a nominee of health secretary, Maharashtra, to prepare an action plan for restoration measures spread over a span of time, not beyond five years.

The State PCB will be the nodal agency and the finalisation and execution of the action plan may be overseen by Justice V.M. Kanade, former judge of the Bombay High Court.

Respiratory morbidity survey

KEM Hospital had conducted a respiratory morbidity survey in Mahul and Ambapada villages and prepared a report on July 16, 2013. The report said that in Mahul, 67.1% population had complaints of breathlessness more than three times in a month, 76.3% reported the complaints in all season, 86.6% complained of eye irritation, and 84.5% had a history of persisting chocking sensation in chest.

On pulmonary function testing, 7.3% of residents at Chereshwar CHS Limited in Mahul had mild restriction while 5% residents had mild obstruction.

In Ambapada, 66.5 % reported cough as a complaint, 61.3% complained of eye irritation, 51.4% reported chocking sensation in chest, 53.3% had complaints of frequent colds and running nose, and 81% reported strong smell in the area.

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