CHENNAI: Five years after an oil pipeline leak contaminated the groundwater in Tondiarpet, the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday ordered immediate disbursement of compensation to residents.
The ‘polluter’, Bharat Petroleum Company Limited (BPCL), has already deposited `6 lakh with Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to be paid as interim compensation to the affected. Now, the tribunal has directed the pollution board to pay `50,000 each to the nine petitioners, who have been fighting the case for years. This is the first time that residents will be enjoying interim relief in any form.
In 2012, several residents woke-up to ugly scenes of black sludge coming out of their taps. Soon, they realised it was oil — transporting crude from Chennai Port to several refineries in North Chennai — that had leaked from one of the pipelines that run beneath. Initially, BPCL refused to own up, but later confessed that it was their oil that leaked and contaminated groundwater.
KS Jayaraman, a petitioner, said before the oil leak groundwater was sweet and potable, but now residents can’t even use it to clean toilets. “The 2015 torrential rains helped flush some of the pollutants, but still the water smells like petrol,” he said, adding that there are about 500 families who were affected.
Though BPCL claims potable water was being supplied through tankers, residents say it is from quarries, without any treatment and not suitable for drinking.
BPCL’s hired expert agency, the US-based Stratus Environmental Inc — which is operating a massive Soil Vapor Extraction (SVE) system to mitigate petroleum hydrocarbon impact to the subsurface in the vicinity of Tondiarpet — is facing trouble. The SVE is currently installed in Devi-polymer’s land, but BPCL/Stratus has been asked to vacate the place. There are about 14 wells, including five monitoring wells, connected to the SVE network.
Though BPCL has made a request to Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) to provide land to install SVE, there hasn’t been any positive response. The matter was brought to the notice of the NGT on Wednesday.
Judicial member Justice P Jyothimani called a meeting of all parties to find a solution.