The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Kochi Municipal Corporation to pay an environmental compensation of Rs 100 crore for the damage to the environment because of its failure to handle solid waste.
The bench comprising Chairperson Justice A.K. Goel, judicial member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and expert member was hearing a matter in which it had initiated suo-motu (on its own) proceedings on the basis of a media report on an environmental emergency caused due to a fire at a dump site in Kochi.
“Proceedings have been initiated in this matter suo-motu in the light of captioned media report of serious environmental emergency caused due to fire at waste dump site in Kochi as a result of utter failure of the state authorities in performing their inalienable basic duties of providing pollution free environment,” the bench said.
“According to media report, Kochi city was chocked on account of fire at waste dump site on March 2, 2023 which led to crisis situation. Warning was issued to the residents to stay indoors and asking the hospitals to prepare emergency admission of patients with respiratory distress to deal with severe air pollution and its worrying public health fallout,” the bench said.
“We are conscious that identical issue is being dealt with the Kerala High
Court but we make it clear that this order is without prejudice to and subject to the said proceedings. We are also informed that identical issue is pending before South Zone bench of the Tribunal. South Zone Bench may accordingly, take into account this order before proceeding further in any pending matter,” the order read.
The bench stated that the green tribunal found failure of the authorities in the Kerala in following solid waste management rules with regard to the site in question which had potential for damage to the public health and for such continued failure.
“The Tribunal levied compensation on polluter pays principle but the authorities neither complied with the norms as is acknowledged even now nor paid the compensation,” the bench noted.
Kerala and its authorities have been utter failure and have rampantly violated the statutory solid waste management rules and orders of Supreme Court.
The bench further noted that the state and its authorities have also violated Tribunal orders.
“No accountability for such serious failure has been fixed and no senior person has been held accountable so far. Except for giving future plans, no fixing of accountability is proposed even now which is matter of regret. No prosecution has been launched against the guilty for criminal offences under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and also under relevant provisions of IPC,” the bench said.
“Such attitude of State authorities is 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,” it said.
“We award environment 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,” the bench said, citing neglect of its duties by the corporation.
“Apart from above, we direct the Chief Secretary, Kerala to fix accountability of concerned officers for such gross failures and initiate action under criminal law as well as by way of departmental proceedings, following due process and place the same in public domain within two months,” the NGT bench directed.