THE WESTERN zone bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed Rs fine of 50,000 each on Central government, Welspun India Limited (WIL), Gujarat government and its four other departments for failing to respond to a petition alleging green norms violations by WIL in laying a pipeline to discharge waste water into the sea from its plant at Anjar taluka in Kutch district.
WIL has proposed to set up a 45 MLD (million litres per day) sewage treatment plant (STP) in two phases to treat the city sewage and utilise it for the increased water requirement at its plant at Anjar. As part of the project, Welspun will treat sewage water of Gandhidham-Adipur and Anjar towns and use part of it to meet its increased water need after expansion of its facilities for manufacturing textiles, pipes and steel. It intends to lay a pipeline conveyance system, onshore plus offshore, in order to convey and dispose their surplus treated waste water plus RO rejects from STP (10+15 MLD) into deep sea off Nakti creek in the Gulf of Kutch.
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But when the work of laying this pipeline was in progress, Kandla Juth Machimar Sahkari Mandali Limited, an organisation of fishermen of Kandla, moved the Pune bench of NGT in May this year. The fishermen alleged that Welspun had been violating environmental and coastal zone regulation conditions set by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) while granting approval to the pipeline project. The petitioners alleged that instead of horizontal directional drilling, the project proponent had resorted to open digging in water bodies for laying the pipeline. The fishermen also alleged that instead of laying the pipeline at the depth of five metres in ground, WIL had laid the pipeline on the floor of the creek, thereby hindering the movement of fishing boats. The fishermen also alleged that open digging had also damaged mangroves.
The respondents did not file their replies despite observations by the bench in its order in July 18 and then again on August 4, 2016. Meanwhile, the petitioners filed an additional affidavit, giving the report of the ground situation. Eventually, the NGT issued an order on November 29, imposing Rs 50,000 fine on each of the respondents for failing to file their replies in due time.
“We also notice that the statutory authorities responsible in this case have, for unexplained reason, not bothered to file their replies, though 6 (six) months have lapsed. We are disturbed to know that the officers managing these statutory authorities have totally forgotten or deliberately ignored the mandate of statutory duties cast upon them to ensure protection of environment by enforcement of relevant laws. As no explanation is forthcoming from respondents for delay in filing replies, which has caused impediment in the progress of this case, we would like to consider the application for interim order. Further, having no choice, the only option available is to impose costs on the Respondents No.1 to 7,” the bench directed in its order issued on November 29.
The NGT has listed the Central government through secretary of MoEFCC, regional Office (MOEFCC Bhopal WZ office), Gujarat government through secretary of environment and forest department, chairman of Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority, district collector of Kutch, chairman of Gujarat Pollution Control Board and WIL as respondents.
“Thus, we impose costs of Rs 50,000 on each of the respondent, to be deposited with the district collector, Kutch, for the utilisation for environment protection and for restoration purpose,” the court further ordered while giving time to respondents till December 12 for depositing the cost with Kutch collector.
The bench of Justice Jawad Rahim said that after perusing reports, the bench was satisfied and a prima facie case was made out for the tribunal to take required steps to safeguard environment.
But Kutch collector Mukul Gandhi said he was not aware of the issue. “If there is an order, we would have acted on it immediately. But, surely no party has deposited any cost with our office,” he told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Welspun said that the Gujarat government has moved the Gujarat High Court against the order of the NGT.