BENGALURU: Initiating suo moto proceedings following a story titled "Oily discharge from Mangaluru Refinery Polluting Water Bodies" on Page 1 of The New Indian Express on October 1, 2021, the Karnataka Lokayukta directed the authorities concerned to take immediate steps to prevent discharge of effluent substances by the Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited to the water bodies.
"The new published in the TNIE, in my considered view, can be treated as source material to initiate suo moto proceedings in exercise of the powers conferred under Sections 7(1)(b) and 9(3)(a) of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act, 1984. Accordingly, the office is directed to register this as suo moto proceedings", Lokayukta Justice P Vishwanatha Shetty said in the order.
Mentioning the TNIE's story which highlighted the discharge of blackish oily water into stormwater by the Mangaluru Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (MRPL), which resulted in flowing of contaminated water into the Thokur stream and River Phalguni, leading to massive protest by local people unable to use water, Justice Shetty noted that story highlights that the problem is being aced by the local people for about last six years.
"If what is highlighted is true, it indicates to me that there is a dereliction of duty of the public servants of the State who are required to prevent discharge of effluent substances to the water bodies. The right to a healthy environment and pollution-free water is a part of the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India", the Lokayukta said.
Referring to the several judgments of Supreme Court with regard to the role to be played by the Deputy Commissioner/District Magistrate to protect the environment, the Lokayukta said the authorities concerned have not only the responsibility and duty to prevent the discharge of pollutant substances to the water bodies and the fields of neighbouring landowners, but they have also the duty and obligation to assess the damage caused to the members of public on account of discharge of effluent substances and compensate the loss.
Extracting the provisions of the Environment Protect Act, 1986 and Water Act, the Lokayukta said that the KSPCB has been entrusted with the responsibilities of taking effective steps for preventing environmental pollution by not only initiating criminal prosecution against the owner of pollutant industry and also to stop the functioning of the industry by giving necessary directions. However, as could be seen from the news published in the TNIE, the KSPCB appears to have failed in taking effective steps to prevent water pollution and also failed to initiate the appropriate steps to prevent discharge of pollutant substances, Lokayukta opined.
Taking note of the story, the Lokayukta directed the Registry to implead the Deputy Commissioner, Dakshina Kannada District, Commissioner of Mangaluru City Corporation, Member Secretary, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), Senior Environmental Officer, KSPCB, Mangaluru, Tahasildar, Dakshina Kannada and MRPL, as respondents for the purpose investigation and issue notice to them.
Passing the order directing them to submit the steps taken to prevent the pollution and status report by November 4, 2021, the next date of hearing, the Lokayukta said that it is needless to point out that there is a statutory obligation on the part of the State to take effective steps to prevent the environmental pollution. "In my view, the issues raised in the TNIE and the observations made by me in the order requires the immediate attention of the State", the Lokayukta said.