August 6, 2021 8:30:13 pm
The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) told the Gujarat High Court on Friday that the interim compensation amount to be recovered from 500 ceramic units in Morbi for environmental damage is approximately around Rs 400 crore.
GPCB represented by senior counsel Manisha Shah also informed a division bench that as on date, “in the entire Morbi district, all units using coal gasifiers have shut down… they have converted and shifted to gas-based operations.”
In March 2019, a principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), dealing with the issue of remedying pollution in Morbi on account of operation of ceramic industries using coal gasifier plants, had directed the GPCB to close all coal gasifiers industries and units operating with the help of coal gasifiers without prejudice to such units switching over to non-coal gasifiers or PNG or technology consistent with the above report.
The Tribunal had also directed GPCB that it must initiate “immediate steps for prosecution of the industries which have operated in violation of law and recover compensation for causing damage to the environment and public health.”
For assessing the compensation amount as well as for chalking a restoration plan of the area, the NGT had recommended the constitution of a committee with representatives of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), GPCB and NEERI.
Shah submitted before the court of Justices JB Pardiwala and Vaibhavi Nanavati on Friday that the committee has a two-fold role. One is for assessing interim compensation that is required to be recovered and second is to look at long-term reparations.
For the long-term aspect of reparations, it was submitted by Shah that the Committee has decided to give the project “to some experts on environment to carry out an extensive investigation and examination on how this area can be repaired as a long-term measure,” and the interim compensation assessed is what has been recommended by the Committee.
In the 547 petitions moved before the Gujarat HC in 2020, a key ground of challenge to this interim compensatory amount assessed is on the ground that the ceramic units were not provided an opportunity of hearing before determining the amount and the same thus goes against the principle of natural justice.
The proposed interim amount which the GPCB directed the ceramic units to pay up as ‘environmental damage compensation’ in the interim was calculated as Rs 5,000 per day for operation of one coal gasifier starting from the date of consent of commission of the plant. The Gujarat HC in January 2020 had granted interim relief to the ceramic units, directing the GPCB to not take any coercive action against the units with regard to the GPCB’s order directing for payment of the interim compensation amount.
The division bench, however, inquired from the petitioners as to why don’t they challenge the GPCB order for compensation before the NGT, since it was the NGT which had entrusted a committee for assessing the compensation amount.
It was also the petitioners’ case that they have not even been provided with the report of the committee calculating the compensatory amount and the basis for deciding the same.
GPCB’s counsel admitted that the ceramic units were not afforded an opportunity of hearing and that they are merely complying with what the committee said. However, Shah added that they do understand the ceramic units’ grievances and they may be justified to an extent to be aggrieved by the interim compensation order.
Addressing the petitioners, Justice Pardiwala however remarked, “…A place which was a hell at one point of time, is now slowly gradually limping back to normalcy. Government needs funds to repair the damage. I don’t know in what manner they will repair the damage, it’s for the experts to look into it but you all created huge trouble for one and all. So nothing is wrong if such an interim compensation is determined, (but) no one would like to pay such a huge amount. Who would like to pay? So everyone has come running to the high court that ‘what is this, how could you have determined this?’”
The bench informed that it shall be passing some orders.
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