Mumbai | Nov 15, 2014

The Bombay High Court has issued notices to 35 coal fired thermal power plants (CFTPP) in Maharashtra seeking their response to a PIL urging measures to deal with safety and occupational hazards.

The notices, issued by Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice B P Colabawalla, are returnable on December 8.

The bench, hearing a suo motu (on its own) public interest litigation (PIL), recently directed the CFTPPs to submit necessary compliance reports to the concerned Ministry of the state government and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), stating that they had taken adequate safety measures.

The judges also directed the 35 thermal plants in the state to submit their periodical reports to the district legal services committee of respective districts, in which the power plants are situated.

The court also directed the district legal services committees in the state to enrol the students of law colleges and other colleges in their respective districts to personally visit the plants and interview the workers employed in such power plants for ascertaining occupational health hazards faced by them in various CFTPPs.

Such students can also ascertain the steps which are being taken by CFTPPs, preventive, curative and remedial, for protection of the health and welfare of the workers, the bench opined.

The judges also asked the Maharashtra Government to respond to the PIL on or before December 8 and indicate what steps it proposes to take for effective implementation of the provisions of the relevant labour legislations.

The Supreme Court, while hearing a similar public interest litigation (PIL), had considered various suggestions made before it to reduce the occupational hazards of the employees working in various thermal power stations in the country.

These suggestions included a comprehensive medical yearly check-up of all workers in coal-fired thermal power stations and free medical treatment to workers found to be suffering from an occupational disease, ailment or accident until cured or until death.

It was also suggested that services of workmen would not to be terminated during illness and they be treated as if they were on duty. Besides, the thermal plants would adopt safety methods recommended by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH).

Other suggestions accepted by the apex court were compensation to be paid to workmen suffering from occupational disease, ailment or accident in accordance with the provisions of the Workmen’s Compensation Act.

Another suggestion required that modern protective equipment be provided to workmen as recommended by an expert body in consultation with the unions.

The Centre had informed the court that these suggestions were broadly covered by various existing enactments and consequential pro-occupational action would be taken for effective implementation of the relevant laws.

The Supreme Court thereafter directed the Ministry of Labour to take steps to see that these suggestions and relevant provisions of various Labour Acts were properly implemented to protect the welfare of the employees.

Pursuant to the directions of Supreme Court, the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) submitted report for the year 2011, making various recommendations.

The report states that occupational exposure to high heat in different thermal power plants may cause heat related disorders, like heat exhaustion. Noise and vibration exposures in higher doses than the permissible limits may result in noise induced hearing loss, raised blood pressure, regional vascular disorders, muscular-skeletal disorders, human error, productivity loss, accidents and injuries.

The report says that Radiation hazards, particularly from the generated fly ash and its used products, have been indicated of possible health risks. Different chemicals that are used in CFTPPs, such as chlorine, ammonia, fuel oil, and released in the working and community environment may be responsible for a wide range of acute health impairments.

In order to keep a check on safety in thermal plants, the apex court thought it fit to direct the high courts, in whose jurisdictions the CFTPPs are located, to examine all aspects including whether there is adequate and effective health delivery system in place and whether there is any evaluation of occupational health status of the workers and whether any effective medical treatment is meted out to them.

Accordingly, the matters were transferred to the respective high courts.

“That is why the Registrar General of the Bombay High Court filed this petition praying for the necessary reliefs to be granted and the directions to be issued to the state and 35 thermal plants in Maharashtra,” said the bench.