MUMBAI: Four companies operating in Mahul, including BPCL and HPCL, will have to pay Rs 286 crore over five years to improve air quality in the area, the National Green Tribunal ruled on Friday.
Residents of Mahul and Ambapada villages had filed a plea in 2014 against the setting up of a unit barely metres away from their homes.
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Compensation to be paid by each company has been determined on the basis of the amount of Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC) emitted and its possible impact. Aegic Logistics Ltd has to pay Rs 142 crore, HPCL Rs 76.5 crore, BPCL Rs 67.5 crore and Sea Lord Containers, a subsidiary of Aegis, Rs 20 lakh.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT)’s principal bench has held four companies responsible for contributing “substantially” to air pollution in Mahul and levied a fine of Rs 286 crore on them, which is expected to be used for reviving the area’s air quality. The order comes six years after the villagers in Mahul and Ambapada filed a petition against a Sea Lord Containers Ltd unit, seeking its closure. Residents said they saw a significant rise in respiratory ailments in the villages soon after the company began operations. When complaints to various state authorities failed to elicit any response, the villagers approached the NGT.
The NGT’s order came after the emissions in the area were studied by an in-house technical committee of the Central Pollution Control Board set up on the NGT’s directions. The Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) found included benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and butadiene.
The four companies responsible for the emissions are Aegis Logistics Ltd, Sea Lord Containers Ltd, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd.
The NGT order observed that while there may be many reasons for the presence of VOCs in the atmosphere like vehicular emission (the area sees heavy traffic during loading and unloading of petroleum chemical products), “it cannot be denied that the four companies contribute substantially and predominantly to the VOCs in Mahul and Ambapada villages.” It acknowledged that VOCs are potential cause for serious ailments and prolonged exposure to them may weaken the lungs and other organs. “Conditions prevailing in the area are sometimes likened to that of a gas chamber,” reads the order.
While HPCL and BPCL have been directed to deposit the amount in a ring-fenced account, the others will have to deposit it in an escrow account. A ten-member committee comprising two senior nominees of CPCB, a representative each of MoEF&CC, State Pollution Control Board, Collector (Mumbai), National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, KEM Hospital and a nominee of the state health secretary is to be set up to prepare an action plan for restoration measures to be implemented within five years.
“The plan may in particular provide for dealing with health issues of the inhabitants and measures for control of pollution in the area, treating Ambapada, Mahul, Chembur and contiguous area (as may be specified by the Committee) to be Special Air Pollution Control Area for the restoration plan,” reads the order. The NGT has allowed the committee to hold virtual meetings. The committee has been allowed to execute the plan through the companies or otherwise.