The Supreme Court has asked three top Gujarat-based industries, Alembic Pharmaceuticals Ltd, United Phosphorus Ltd and Unique Chemicals Ltd, to deposit a compensation amount of Rs 10 crore each with the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), which should use the money for “restoration and remedial measures” to improve the quality of environment in the industrial area in which the industries have been operating.
In its order dated April 1, in a petition filed by well-known environmentalist Rohit Prajapati of the Payavaran Suraksha Samiti against the three industrial houses the the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC), the apex court said, each of them should also additionally deposit an amount of Rs 10 lakh, as ordered by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) earlier.
Citing Article 142 of the Constitution, the apex court said (para 39), the three industries should deposit the amount of compensation with GPCB within a period of four months from the date of receipt of the certified copy of the judgment. The three industries are operating in Paneval (Halol), Ankaleshwar and Panoli, respectively.
The apex court stated, “The concept of ex-post facto clearance is alien to environmental jurisprudence. It is in derogation of the fundamental principles of environmental jurisprudence and is an anathema to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification dated January 27, 1994” (para 23).
It continued, “The circular allowing for ex-post facto clearance is contrary to the objective of Section 3 of the Environment Protection Act. There was no jurisdictional bar on NGT to enquire into its legitimacy or vires. Moreover, the administrative circular is contrary to the EIA Notification 1994, which has a statutory character. The circular is thus unsustainable in law” (para 21).
Treating it as exemplary order, MoEFCC must ask state pollution control boards to act against India’s 300 polluting units, identified by CPCB
The apex court argued, “The Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index report issued by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2018 show critical figures of pollution in the industrial cluster, which is an indication that industrial units have been operating in an unregulated manner and in defiance of the law” (para 35).
Prajapati, who is also a senior activist of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), commented, “Since the three industries have evaded the legally binding regime of obtaining Environmental Clearances (ECs), they cannot escape the liability incurred on account of such non-compliance and penalties must be imposed for the disobedience with a binding legal regime.”
Talking with this Counterview, he added, “While the judgment pertains to just three industrial units of India, MoEFCC must treat this as an exemplary order and ask pollution control boards of all states to act against all the 300 polluting industries, identified by CPCB.”
Senior advocates who appeared for the three industries included Kapil Sibal, Abhishek Singhvi and CU Singh, NS Nadkarni appeared for MoEF&CC, and Siddharth Seem for Prajapati.