Poultry Farms Cause Pollution, Can’t Be Exempted From Regulation: NGT

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Excerpt

The National Green Tribunal (NGT), Principal Bench directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to revisit the guidelines for classifying poultry farms as Green category industry and exempting their regulation under various laws and also asked to issue fresh appropriate Orders within three months.

Brief Facts

The Application was filed by the Applicant on 7th December 2017, that chickens destined for the egg industry are artificially incubated and hatched at commercials hatcheries. At the age of approximately 16 weeks, most hens are then transferred into small, barren wire cages called ‘battery cages’ placed side by side. Every layer contains thousands of cages, lined in multiple rows, stacked 3-5 tiers high. The battery cages are so small that the hens are unable even to spread their wings. As poultry farms have thousands of birds in intensive confinement on each farm, the level of waste is high. Pests such as flies, ticks, lice, 3 mites, maggots, scavenging birds and even stray dogs are routinely attracted to the poultry farms. There is an intense odor that emanates from these farms which affects the entire neighborhood and are a source of blatant nuisance. The Appellant, Gauri Maulekhi sought for quashing of the CPCB’s 2015 guidelines exempting commercial poultry farms from the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act and delegating the power to local authorities, and also the direction issued by the CPCB to categorize commercial poultry farming as a green industry.

Arguments Before the Court

Arguments by the Appellant

  1. Right to Life: The decision of the CPCB exempting the poultry farms with less than one lakh birds from registration with the Pollution Control Boards under Section 21 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (Air Act, 1981) and Section 25 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (Water Act, 1974) has been questioned as not being conducive to the clean environment which is part of the right to life.
  2. Sustainable Development: The exemption was hit by ‘sustainable development’ concept to be enforced by this Tribunal under Section 20 read with Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. It was submitted that poultry farms are a source of the odor, attract flies, rodents and other pests that carry disease. The emissions therefrom include gases like ammonia, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) that affect the life of the people living in that vicinity.
  3. Risks To Public Health: The poultry farms use a large quantity of pesticides and antibiotics in their feeds that contaminate the soil and ground water thereby compromising public health. The intensive battery cage factory farming facilities pose unacceptable risks to public health and the environment.
  4. Misuse of antibiotics: Misuse of antibiotics in poultry farms is leading to multi-drug resistant bacteria, which is 6 spreading into the environment through unsafe disposal of poultry litter and waste in agricultural fields. Giving of non-therapeutic antibiotics in poultry farms is leading to drug resistance amongst the consumers of such meat and eggs and is causing tremendous financial loss to the nation. The only way to ensure cleanliness is to give the animals space and keep the facilities clean. Unhygienic conditions in the poultry industry is a major health hazard for both humans and animals and have serious negative implications on the animal’s health and also on humans who work and live in and near such unhygienic conditions. This certainly calls for effective regulation and not exempting regulatory mechanism provided for such farms with more than one lac birds.

Arguments by the Respondent

The Respondents argued that the use of antibiotics is an issue under the purview of Animal Husbandry and the Drug Control and Food Safety Departments.
 
They also claimed that the poultry farms are established far away from the residential areas and, thus, residents are not affected by the activities of the poultry farms. Such activities help the rural areas by providing jobs and a source of livelihood. A cheap source of protein is provided by eggs and chickens.

Analysis

The Case has dealt with provisions such as Section 21 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (Air Act, 1981) and Section 25 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (Water Act, 1974).
 
In the case of that dealt with compliance of environmental norms by dairies. The Tribunal directed the DPCC to perform its responsibility under the Water Act, 1974 and the Air Act, 1981 of enforcing environmental norms against the dairies, rejecting the plea that there is a provision in the Municipal laws to address the issue.

Court’s Observation

A Bench of Justice S P Wangdi, Justice A.K. Goel, Dr Nagin Nanda found the substance in the submissions of the Applicant.
  1. Sustainable development is part of the right to life.
  2. The State Authorities are under obligation to protect the environment as per the sustainable development concept. Responsibilities of the States to the environment are by Public Trust Doctrine.
  3. The Water Act, the Air Act, and the Environment (Protection) Act have been enacted in the wake of international conventions and override all other legislations.
  4. They create an obligation on the regulatory authorities to enforce the environmental measures.
  5. There is no discretion to exempt the mandate of Water Act for activities having the potential to cause water pollution.
  6. It has not been disputed that the operation of poultry farms has the potential to damage the environment which needs to be regulated.
  7. Leaving out poultry farms below one lakh birds unregulated by the State PCB and merely requiring registration with the local bodies or treating them at par with the agricultural farms will be against the mandate of sustainable development.
  8. In view of pollution potential in the operation of poultry farms except for small ones, say up to 5000 birds cannot fall in the ‘Green’ category as has been done by the CPCB.

Court’s Decision

The Court after considering the contentions by the appellant and respondents allowed the application. It directed the CPCB to revisit the guidelines for categorizing the poultry farms as green category and exempting their regulation under the Air Act, Water Act and the EP Act.
 
The CPCB may issue fresh appropriate orders within three months and in if no further order is issued, all the State PCBs/PCCs will require enforcement of consent mechanism under the above Acts after 01.01.2021 for all poultry farms above 5000 birds in the same manner as is being done for farms having more than one lac birds. Till then, the State PCB/PCCs may strictly enforce the environmental norms and take appropriate remedial action against any violation of water, air and soil standards statutorily laid down.

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