The National Green Tribunal last Thursday imposed a fine of Rs.286 crore on four companies namely Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Aegis logistics and Sealord Containers for contributing substantially to presence of pollutants or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air at Mumbai's Mahul and Ambapada villages.
Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Justice SP Wangdi and Dr.Satyawan Garbyal (Executive Member) directed HPCL to pay Rs.76.5 crores, BPCL to pay Rs.67.5 crores, Aegis to pay Rs.142 crore and Sealord to pay Rs.20 lakh after computing the daily and yearly emissions caused by these four companies and the damage caused by the same in terms of money for five years.
The principal bench was hearing via video conferencing an execution application filed by Charudatt Koli for execution of NGT's order dated December 18, 2015 wherein the Tribunal considered the issue of remedial steps to be taken for control of air pollution in the Mahul, Ambapada and Chembur areas in Mumbai. Major contributors to the air pollution were said to be the logistic services, storing oil, gas and chemical items, as well as oil companies releasing emissions of VOCs during loading, storage and unloading or handling of hazardous chemicals at various stages. NGT found that there was deterioration of ambient air quality causing threat to the health of the residents in these areas.
Accordingly, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board was directed to prepare a comprehensive action plan for control of air pollution. Health Impact Assessment study was directed to be carried out, apart from 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 KEM hospital conducted a respiratory morbidity survey in Mahul and Ambapada villages and reported on July 16, 2013 that in Mahul area, 67.1 per cent population had complains of breathlessness more than three times in a month, 76.3 per cent reported the complaints in all season, 86.6 per cent complained of eye-irritation and 84.5 per cent have history of persistent choking sensation in chest.
Thereafter, an execution application was filed before the Tribunal alleging non-compliance of the direction dated December 18, 2015 which was taken up for consideration on Feb 5, 2019, in light of earlier proceedings. The Tribunal considered the report of the Joint Committee dated Jan 1, 2019, finding damage to the air quality by VOC emissions and suggesting steps for control of VOCs. The Tribunal directed remedial action and assessment of compensation on polluter pays principle.
A report dated March 18, 2020 has been filed by the Central Pollution Control Board determining the quantum of VOCs emitted by the contesting respondent companies in the course of their operations in the outskirts of Mumbai, at and around villages Ambapada and Mahul. On that basis, loss to the environment in monetary terms has been worked out as follows-
Name of Company
Total VOC Emission In Kg/Day
Total VOC Emissions based on present levels
Environmental Damage Cost
Damage Cost/Year for 5 yrs (in crores)
Total Damage Cost payable (in crores)
After going through the above report submitted by CPCB, the bench observed-
"While it is true that there may be many reasons for presence of VOCs in the atmosphere like vehicular emissions, etc., it cannot be denied that the said four companies e.g. ALL, SLCL, BPCL and HPCL contribute substantially and predominantly to the VOCs in Mahul and Ambapada villages. It is also scientifically proven that VOCs are potential cause for various serious ailments if humans are exposed to it for a long time. The prolonged exposure to HAPs even at miniscule level may weaken the lungs and other organs. Conditions prevailing in the area are sometimes likened to that of 'Gas Chamber'."
The tribunal noted that respondent companies had been taking actions to arrest the fugitive emissions which were particularly noticeable after 2015 and of late the industries have acted on implementation of action plan-
"The CPCB has accordingly assessed the values of VOCs emissions based upon the data provided to them by the companies. In view of the submissions made by the CPCB and above discussion, the objections of the units regarding use of data prior to control measures and the incorrect application of the formula and methodology are untenable. We are satisfied that all the objections raised by the respondent companies have been duly considered by the CPCB's in-house Technical Committee and we are satisfied with the correctness of the conclusion arrived at by the CPCB. No further hearing is necessary in view of clarifications made by the CPCB."
Thus, the tribunal accepted CPCB's report and directed the aforesaid respondent companies to pay a total of Rs.286.2 crores as fine. The tribunal also constituted a ten-member joint committee comprising two senior nominees of CPCB, representative of MoEF&CC, State PCB, District Magistrate, Mumbai, NEERI, TISS, Mumbai, IIT Mumbai, KEM Hospital, Mumbai and a nominee of Health Secretary Maharashtra, to prepare action plan for restoration measures spread over a span of time, not beyond five years. The State PCB will be the nodal agency for the said plan.
The plan in particular will provide for dealing with health issues of the inhabitants and measures for control of pollution in the area, treating Ambapada, Mahul, Chembur and contiguous areas (as may be specified by the Committee) to be a Special Air Pollution Control Area for the restoration plan.
NGT appointed retired Bombay High Court judge Justice VM Kanade for overseeing the finalisation and execution of the action plan with the assistance of technical experts nominated by CPCB and State PCB.
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