The National Green Tribunal has upheld the penalty of 57.96 lakhs imposed on NTPC on Polluter Pays principle by Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board, for damaging the environment.
A three member Bench of NGT comprising of Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Justice Sheo Kumar Singh and Expert members Dr Nagin Nanda upheld the order passed by the Board in December 2020 requiring NTPC to pay compensation of Rs. 57,96,000 for violating muck disposal sites maintenance norms, resulting in damage to the environment.
The Tribunal issued the directions while hearing an appeal filed by NTPC against order of the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board issued under Section 33 A of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (Water Act).
The Principal Bench of the Tribunal has held that the Polluter Pays principle has been rightly invoked for damage caused to the environment. It observed that it is evident from the reports that slope of the muck dumped by NTPC was hazardously double the standards with potential for erosion.
NGT further observed that the amount of compensation to be amount recovered by the State Pollution Control Board could be utilized for restoration of the environment in the District according to the action plan for the purpose, in terms of the directions issued on 9th Feb 2021 by the National Green Tribunal in the case of Ashish Kumar Dixit v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Ors.
In the present case, NTPC has been operating the Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project located at District Chamoli in Uttarakhand and set up 5 muck disposal dumping sites. Out of these dumping sites, 3 were completed 3-5 years back while 2 are still active and operational. The State Pollution Control Board had found deficiencies in these sites and issued an notice to NTPC on 29th June 2020.
State PCB directed NTPC to repair and strengthen the damaged toe protection and contour stone walls with proper engineering design and provide suitable fencing to control excess human and animal interference. The Board also asked NTPC to ensure that the unattended works of levelling, surface smoothing are completed and unwanted material is removed. The Corporation was asked to apply manure and fertilizer to improve the soil fertility and plant suitable species of grasses, shrubs and tree in the degraded area.
Four months after the directions were given to NTPC, the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board conducted an inspection of the site and and noticed non-compliances.
The Board found that the slope of muck dump was about 60° which was hazardously double the standards and the risk of even severe mass erosion was triggered by the upper side of the muck dump being subjected to the entry of water. The Board found huge mass erosion in terms of very deep gully formation in downstream of this muck dump under the unstable conditions.
The State PCB therefore held that the NTPC had not complied with the directions of the State PCB which had resulted in damage to the environment and was liable to pay compensation on 'Polluter Pays' principle of Rs. 57,96,000.