A set of four writ petitions were filed in larger public interest seeking a direction to the State Government and the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) to cause an inquiry through a body of experts to take action against those industries along with Red Category Industries which are causing environmental degradation and acting in violation of the guidelines in the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986.
The petitioner, Mr. Himanshu Chandola is an agriculturist and had filed a petition in the year 2017 seeking a Writ of Mandamus commanding the State of Uttarakhand, the District Magistrate and the State Pollution Control Board to restrain the private respondents from spreading pollution to the surrounding areas and take appropriate action against them.
A division bench of the High Court in the year 2018 directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to inspect each and every industry in Uttarakhand and ascertain whether they were compliant with the various environment protection rules of the country.
The Central Pollution Control Board submitted its report stating that an inspection was conducted of 793 Red Category Industries in the State; their inspection revealed that 239 of such units were complying with the prescribed norms; 323 establishments in the red category were not complying with the prescribed norms; 159 units were closed; 43 units were not traceable; 26 units were still under construction, and 2 units could not be assessed as they were inaccessible.
Directions to Central Pollution Control Board
The Division Bench, by its order in 2019, directed the Central Pollution Control Board to furnish the list of 323 red category industries which were found not to be complying with the prescribed norms. The Member Secretary of the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board was directed to inspect each one of these 323 red category industries, and take action against the erring units, and submit an ‘Action Taken Report’ to this Court. A compliance report was, thereafter, filed by the State Pollution Control Board informing this Court that of the 323 red category industries, identified by the Central Pollution Control Board, 27 were under closure, 179 of these units satisfied the prescribed norms, and show cause notices were issued against the rest. Periodic reports have been filed by the Pollution Control Board regarding the action taken by them against the non-compliant Red Category Industries.
The counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioners submitted that instead of keeping the writ petitions pending before the court, it would be sufficient if the court granted the petitioner, liberty to invoke the jurisdiction of this court under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution.
Respondent’s Arguments regarding Red Category Industries
The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents referred to the affidavit filed by the pollution control board in 2020.
The said affidavit dated 17.02.2020 refers to show cause notices having been issued to 96 non-compliant red category industries; 80 of them had rectified the deficiencies and, therefore, the proposal to close these industries was revoked; one of these industries was directed to be closed and after they had rectified the deficiency, the order of closure was revoked; 3 of these polluting industries had themselves closed their units, 11 Red Category Industries were under process after field verification, and 1 was pending field verification.
With regard to the 21 industries, to whom direction for closure was issued, the affidavit states that after rectification of the deficiencies so pointed out, the order of closure was revoked for 20 industries, and the other industry had closed its unit. In the affidavit filed before this Court, the State Pollution Control Board stated that in the Minutes of the Meeting held on 04.12.2019, consisting of an official of Urban Development, Health and Family Welfare Department and the Uttarakhand Pollution Control Board, it was decided that Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) should be installed in industrial areas where the density was more; it was their opinion that a technical study should be conducted before the establishment of CETPs.
Invitations for expression of interest were also issued, was given wide publicity in the leading daily newspapers, and was also hosted on the website of the Board. In its affidavit dated 17.02.2020, the Regional Officer of the Pollution Control Board states that 9 firms participated pursuant to the expression of interest, of which 3 were found to have technically qualified; the Pollution Control Board had shortlisted a firm namely, “The Just Environment (Toxic Links), Delhi”.
The learned Standing Counsel for the Pollution Control Board, states that the shortlisted firm would commence its exercise of collecting inventory, from the healthcare facilities in all the 13 districts of the State, from the 1st of April, 2020; and, in terms of the expression of interest, they are required to submit their report within 300 days from 01.04.2020.
He further submitted that, since a decision has already been taken to establish two more waste disposal facilities in Tehri and Almora districts of Uttarakhand, action would be taken, on receipt of the report of the shortlisted firm, to decide on the size of the unit required to be established to cater to the waste generated by these healthcare facilities; and, thereafter, bids would be invited from those willing to establish such disposal facilities in these two districts of the State. He assured this Court that necessary action would be taken, within a prescribed time frame, for the establishment of these waste disposal facilities in the two districts of Tehri and Almora.
It appeared to the Uttarakhand High Court that the State Pollution Control Board had been taking action against recalcitrant red category industries and since efforts were underway to establish two biomedical waste disposal facilities, the assurance of the counsel appearing on behalf of the respondents was recorded.
The four writ petitions were disposed of, giving the petitioners the liberty to judicial remedies in future in case these industries were found to have violated any environmental norms.
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