The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in an August 13 order asked four industrial firms in the Mahul-Chembur area of eastern Mumbai to pay Rs 286 crore as compensation for environmental damages caused by air pollution over five years. The NGT was acting on a 2014 application by Charudatt Koli, Dayaram Mahulkar, Mohan Mhatre and Dattaram Koli, residents of the area, who sought the closure of Sea Lord Containers Limited, a subsidiary of Aegis Logistics Limited.
What was the NGT order?
In an order published Thursday, the principal bench of the NGT, headed by chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel, directed Aegis Logistics Limited (ALL) to pay Rs 142 crore; Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd., Rs 76.5 crore; Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd., Rs 67.5 crore; and Sea Lord Containers Limited (SLCL), Rs 0.2 crore, as compensation, totalling Rs 286.2 crore.
The NGT held them responsible for creating “gas chamber”-like conditions in Mumbai’s Ambapada, Mahul and Chembur areas in eastern Mumbai.
M/s Sealord Containers Limited and Aegis Logistics Limited, which are involved in the logistics of storing oil, gas and chemicals, were found guilty of releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These units are located in very close proximity to residential areas.
What are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, including benzene, toluene, xylene, ethylbenzene, and are harmful toxic pollutants that cause exposure-related health effects in human beings. Among the major contributors to air pollution in Chembur are logistic services storing oil, gas and chemical items; and oil companies releasing VOCs during loading, storage and unloading or handling of hazardous chemicals at various stages. Many cases of pulmonary diseases and respiratory tract infections have been reported due to exposure to VOCs.
VOCs are also emitted by a wide array of household products including paints, cleaning supplies and pesticides. “While it is true that there may be many reasons for the presence of VOCs in the atmosphere, like vehicular emissions, etc, it cannot be denied that the said four companies… contribute substantially and predominantly to the VOCs in Mahul and Ambapada villages,” the tribunal noted.
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How was the environmental damage compensation calculated?
The calculations were based on the report by an in-house technical committee of the Central Board of Pollution Control (CBPC). VOC emissions data was collected based on records produced by the companies. The fine is based on the “polluter pays” principle, which imposes absolute liability on parties handling harmful substances to pay for any damage caused.
Who will get the compensation?
The tribunal appointed a 10-member joint committee, including two CPCB nominees and representatives of the Union Environment Ministry and Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board, apart from health experts, to prepare an action plan for restoration of the areas affected. The action plan will address the health problems of inhabitants due to air pollution in the Mahul-Chembur area and pollution abatement.
The compensation will be made available for the plan to be executed by the respondents (firms) themselves, or otherwise as may be decided by the committee from time to time, said the order. The compensation will not be directly given to the four petitioners or the residents of the affected areas.
Can the NGT order be challenged?
Under Rule 22 of the NGT Rules, there is a provision for seeking a review of a decision or order of the NGT. If this fails, an NGT Order can be challenged before the Supreme Court within 90 days.