The Principal bench of the National Green Tribunal has come down heavily on the Tamil Nadu government, even considering the imposition of ₹100 crore towards damages for the repeated failure of the State in its duties in preventing pollution of the Adyar and Cooum rivers and the Buckingham Canal. It also directed the Chief Secretary to be present before it to inform the tribunal of the progress of work to clean the rivers.
In an order passed on an application filed by Jawaharlal Shanmugam, the bench comprising Chairman Adarsh Kumar Goel, Judicial member Justice K. Ramakrishnan and expert member Nagin Nanda said, “There is pollution of the rivers and there has been repeated failure of the State of Tamil Nadu in its duties. Remedial action is required.”
The Bench went on to observe that having regard to track record of repeated failures in the past, stand now taken by the State of Tamil Nadu that it will implement eco-restoration plan within eight years and the major activities will be completed in three years should not be taken at its face value. The action of the State authorities is not consistent with the constitutional obligations under Articles 21, 48A and 51A of the Constitution to prevent pollution of water and air. The Tribunal may, therefore, require the State of Tamil Nadu to deposit a suitable amount towards interim compensation for damage caused to the environment and also take a performance guarantee to ensure that present action plan is implemented within timelines given by the State.
“The apathy and failure of State of Tamil Nadu and its authorities in protecting the environment for the last many years is clear from facts already noted. It is alienable responsibility and duty of the State to provide clean environment to the citizens. Such duty cannot be linked to any other duty. Nor can inaction for such failure be justified on the ground of availability of budget or other commitments. Pollution of water deprives the citizens of most essential need of potable water. Failure to provide equipment to treat sewage and permitting untreated sewage and pollutants in water bodies is criminal offence under the law of the land. Anyone permitting or being party to it is liable,” it said.
In view of consistent failure of the State so far, we are tentatively inclined to require the State of Tamil Nadu to pay a sum of ₹100 crores as compensation for damage to the environment with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the past failures in preventing damage to environment. The amount may be used for restoration of environment.
However, before taking a final view, the Bench directed the constitution of a joint Committee comprising of representatives of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, Madras School of Economics, NEERI and the State Pollution Control Board. The Committee may assess the causes and quantum of damage to the environment as well as further steps required for restoration of environment which are not covered in the action plan. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board will be the nodal agency to coordinate and comply with the orders of the Tribunal. The Committee may give its report within three months. “We further direct that performance guarantee be furnished by the State of Tamil Nadu to the satisfaction of CPCB within one month to complete the restoration work within the specified time lines,” it said.
The Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu has been required to remain present before the Tribunal on April 23, 2019. We direct the Chief Secretary to be ready with the progress in the present matter as well which is impacting large number of inhabitants living in the catchments of these river systems. CPCB may collect holistic data for other stretches comprehensively so that further action to remedy pollution can be effectively taken. “We also direct that the Committee headed by Chief Secretary which met on February 01, 2019 may continue to meet fortnightly for a period of next three months and thereafter on monthly basis to review the progress in the matter,” the members said.