The principal bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) at Delhi recently imposed a fine of Rs.17.31 crore on the Indian Oil Corporation Limited's (IOCL) refinery in Panipat, for violation of environmental norms by polluting water and air. The said decision was taken by a coram comprising Chairperson Justice AK Goel, Justice SP Wangdi, Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Nagin Nanda. The coram noted that the money will be used to restore the damage caused to the environment.
After complaints were raised by residents that air and water pollution by the refinery was causing large-scale diseases affecting the inhabitants of the area, a joint committee comprising Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) and Deputy Commissioner, Panipat, was constituted. A report was filed by the joint committee dated January 15, 2019.
Joint Committee Conclusions
The joint committee concluded that samples collected from the effluent treatment plant (ETP) at IOCL's Panipat refinery were found to be non-compliant with environmental norms. The report noted: "Ambient air quality was exceeding the norms. VOCs were resulting in irritation to eyes and odour which was observed by the joint committee during inspection. Untreated effluent was found to be discharged in the green belt areas. Unit was not complying with the conditions of recycling and reusing treated water. ETP was not being operated efficiently and was not adequate. Untreated effluents were being stored in open storage lagoon without VOC recovery system. The groundwater samples were not complying with the norms."
The NGT observed in a hearing on March 1, 2019, that the State Pollution Control Board, the statutory regulator was required not only to prohibit the polluting activities but also to recover exemplary compensation as well as take further punitive action.
The tribunal directed an assessment of the damage caused to the public health and the environment be made by the committee. The compensation was expected to be adequate to meet the cost of restoration of the environment and public health and deterrent.
In a report dated May 9, 2019, the joint committee recommended a tentative cost of Rs. 17.31 crore on IOCL Panipat Refinery which would be utilised for plantation of forest trees and for the restoration of groundwater quality. The committee further stated that an updated cost of restoration, after concluding the assessment of environmental damage to public health and groundwater, will be submitted within the next 3 months.
Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi appeared on behalf of IOCL and submitted that the said refinery has consent to establish and permission to discharge effluents into the drain. It was further submitted that the report of the joint committee dated May 9 recommending costs to be imposed is unwarranted as impact of other industries in the vicinity has not been considered and the joint committee did not give notice to the respondent.
The tribunal noted: "A public sector unit is expected to be a model for compliance of environmental norms. For pollution caused, liability is unavoidable. We find that there is adequate material on record to hold that there is violation of environmental norms by Respondent No. 1.
The inspection was carried out by the credible experts of the regulatory authorities, namely, the CPCB, the HSPCB under the direction of this Tribunal." Further, the tribunal accepted the committee's recommendation and observed: "We are, thus, unable to accept the submission that no compensation may be required to be paid or that no further action be taken. Even if pollution is contributed by others, Respondent No. 1 cannot avoid responsibility. Only question is the quantum.
The Committee has assessed interim compensation to be Rs. 17.31 crores. Final assessment is to be made. If Respondent No. 1 wishes to object to the quantum determined in the interim report, it will be open to it to do so before the next date. However, pending further consideration, the interim amount must be deposited." Thus, the tribunal directed a sum of Rs.17.31 crore to be deposited with the Central Pollution Control Board by way of interim compensation for restoration of the environment subject to further orders.