The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has awarded Rs. 100 crores in environmental compensation against Kochi Municipal Corporation for alleged continuing neglect of its duties resulting in a fire at a waste dump site in Kochi.
The Tribunal stated that, according to a media report, Kochi city was choked on account of a fire at the waste dump site on March 2, 2023, which led to a crisis situation. A warning was issued to the residents to stay indoors and hospitals asked to prepare emergency admission of patients with respiratory distress to deal with severe air pollution and its worrying public health fallout.
Considering the studies and long continuing neglect of its duties by the Kochi Municipal Corporation, we award environmental compensation under section 15 of the NGT Act against Kochi Municipal Corporation of Rs. 100 crores which may be deposited with the Chief Secretary, Kerala within one month for necessary remediation measures, including dealing with the public health issues of the victims, said the bench headed by NGT’s Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
The Tribunal noted that Kerala state reply said “the dump site is spread over 100 acres of land and a processing plant have a capacity for waste processing of 300 Tonnes Per Day. The contract to process the waste has been given to a contractor but only 33 percent of the work has been completed. Several major and minor fires earlier have broken out at the site. The present incident occurred on March 2, 2023, at 5:30 pm. The fire and Rescue Department took measures to control the fire. Naval Helicopters were deployed to airdrop water over the fire heaps. The fire was brought under control by March 5, 2023.
A health advisory was issued to the general public on March 4, 2023, to use masks and stay indoors. Extra precautions were advised to be taken by more vulnerable citizens – senior citizens, children below the age of 12, sick persons, and pregnant women. Medical camps were organized. 120 oxygen beds were set up. 200 persons sought medical help. 30 fire tenders, 45 excavators, 14 high-capacity water pumps, and four helicopters along with 350 firemen and 150 supporting staff were engaged in mitigation efforts at the site. There was no CCTV surveillance at the site. Brahmapuram Waste Treatment Plant is solely owned and maintained by the Corporation of Cochin, stated the Kerala state reply.
The plant has been closed on March 13, 2023. Multi-Sectoral Empowered Committee has been constituted by the Disaster Management Department.
The Tribunal said that it is self-evident that good governance in the matter of waste management is being neglected for a long time to the detriment of the environment and public health and no one has taken moral responsibility for such gross failure of rule of law and damage to public health. It is difficult to understand what is the value of citizens’ right to life and safety with such an attitude of total neglect by authorities in Government. This calls for soul-searching and also high-level inquiry to determine culpability in the larger public interest.
Such an attitude of State authorities is a threat to rule of law. We hope the situation is remedied at the higher level in the State such as the DGP and the Chief Secretary to uphold the Constitution and the mandate of environmental law, said the NGT.