The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on May 8 suo moto took cognizance of a hazardous gas leakage incident in Vishakhapatnam and ordered initially to deposit an amount of Rs. 50 crores under Section 14 and 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.
The NGT bench comprises of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, chairperson, Justice Sheo Kumar Singh as Judicial member and Dr. Nagin Nanda as an expert member.
Facts of the case
In Vishakhapatnam on May 7, 2020, at 03:45 AM, there was a leakage of hazardous gas, Styrene from a chemical factory which is owned by a South Korean company LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd. The unfortunate incident resulted in at least 12 deaths, over 1000 affected and significant damage to the environment. Styrene gas is a hazardous chemical as defined under Rule 2(e) read with Entry 583 of Schedule I to the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989. The Rules require on-site and off-site Emergency plans to ensure prevention of damage.
Observations of the Tribunal
The Tribunal noted that there was a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions. The Leakage of hazardous gas is poorly affecting public health and environment which attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the business involved in an inherently dangerous industry. Under this principle, the liable person has to reinstate the damage caused to the environment. The Tribunal appropriately identified that the statutory authorities responsible for authorizing and regulating such activities may also be accountable for their lapses.
The Tribunal stated that it is their statutory obligation not only to provide relief to the victims but also the restitution of the environment.
Directions of the Tribunal
To provide appropriate relief, it is necessary to ascertain the extent of damage and the cost of such remedial measures. Hence, the Tribunal formed a 5-member committee which will submit a report regarding the situation before the next date of hearing. The committee comprises of:
- Justice B. Seshasayana Reddy, Former Judge, A.P. High Court;
- Ch V Rama Chandra Murthy, Former Vice-Chancellor, Andhra University, Vizag;
- Professor Pulipati King, Head of Chemical Engineering Department, Andhra University, Vizag;
- Member Secretary, CPCB;
- Director, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology;
- Head, NEERI, Vizag.
The Committee to specifically report on:
- The sequence of events;
- Causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible therefor;
- The extent of damage to life, human and non-human; public health; and environment – including, water, soil, air;
- Steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of the damaged property and environment, and the cost involved;
- Remedial measures to prevent recurrence;
- Any other incidental or allied issues found relevant.
The Tribunal also directed the District Magistrate of Vishakhapatnam and the Regional Office of Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board to provide required logistic support to the Committee. The Central Pollution Control Board was also ordered to bear the initial cost of the functioning of the Committee.
The decision of the Tribunal
The Tribunal considering the prima facie material available on record and taking into consideration the financial worth of the company and the extent of the damage caused ordered LG Polymers India Pvt. Ltd. to deposit an initial amount of Rs. 50 Crore, with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam. The next hearing of the case has been listed on 18.5.2020.
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