National Green Tribunal (NGT), Principal Bench, directed the concerned pollution control board to proceed with coercive measures, including assessment and recovery of compensation for the damage and initiating prosecution against the violators of environmental norms and dumping muck in Chenab River.
A report filed by an independent monitoring committee, headed by a former judge of the High Court, which was based on-site inspection by officers of the statutory authority, backed by photographic and other evidence, including orders of Executive magistrate recording the violations, has found a violation of environmental norms.
Taking note of the report, the NGT said:
“We do not see any reason not to accept the report merely on account of self-serving and untenable denials of the contractors in question. Even NHAI has not disputed the violation but has blamed the contractors. We are, thus, unable to accept the stand of the contractors.”
The matter has been considered by the tribunal for the last four years.
The committee has recommended that Project Director NHAI- PIU Ramban, Project Manager M/s Gammon Engineers & Contractors Pvt. Ltd. (GECPL), Project Manager M/s Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) Ltd. & Project Manager M/s Choudhary Power Projects Private Ltd. (CPPPL) may be prosecuted under Section-17 of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for non-compliance of conditions of Environmental Clearance obtained by them for the execution of the project and for directly dumping muck in Chenab River & for causing damage to the environment in violation to NGT order dated 12-02-2019 and also levying environmental compensation on the basis of ‘Polluters Pays’ Principle (PPP) in terms of directions of the National Green Tribunal.
During the proceedings, the counsel for the NHAI did not dispute the report of the monitoring committee but submitted that on its part the NHAI has instructed the contractors for taking remedial action. Counsels for NHAI’s contactors—Gammon India Limited and Hindustan Construction Corporation Limited—reasoned that the area is prone to landslides and default on the part of the government are not giving additional space.
In 2019, the NGT directed Gammon India Limited and Hindustan Construction Corporation Limited—to pay interim compensation for damage to the extent of Rs 1 crore each. The same was affirmed by the Supreme Court.
The Green Tribunal had also directed Gammon India Limited and Hindustan Construction Corporation Limited to furnish a performance guarantee of Rs 2 crore each and NHAI to furnish a performance guarantee of Rs 1 crore for remedying the situation.
The Bench observed and accepted the recommendations of the Monitoring Committee (MC) that the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and the contractors have to take remedial action.
“NHAI cannot be rest content by simply saying that it has asked the contractors to take remedial action. Responsibility of NHAI to maintain environmental norms remains,” NGT said, pointing out that the contractors are agencies of the NHAI and “there is no bar against the NHAI from substituting its contractors violating the law by the compliant ones.”
“We are unable to accept the justification put forth by the NHAI and its contractors. The fact remains that work has been going on and even during lockdown period the responsibility for the damage cannot be altogether ignored, particularly when the damage caused is because of the activities prior to lockdown.”
The Bench head by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel decided that PCB may proceed with any measures as required against violators of environmental norms. They stated:
“The State Pollution Control Board (PCB) may accordingly proceed with coercive measures, including assessment and recovery of compensation for the damage and initiating prosecution against the violators of environmental norms, following the due process of law.”
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