THOOTHUKUDI: Environment activists have lodged a complaint against the District Environment Engineer for not taking legal action against the Thoothukudi airport authorities, who failed to obtain the mandatory Consent to Operate (CTO) from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) for the past 29 years, as per the Water and Air Acts.
While the Thoothukudi Airport at Vagaikulam, spread over 789.5 acres, has been operational since 1992, it obtained the CTO only on January 11, 2021 after paying TNPCB a consent fee of Rs 16.74 lakh.
The main complaint of activist SP Muthuraman is that the District Environment Engineer had illegally issued CTO to the airport, without initiating any legal action for having operated the domestic airport without the key approvals for nearly three decades.
Several attempts to contact TNPCB District Environment Engineer Sathiaraj proved futile. A senior airport official, on condition of anonymity, told The New Indian Express that the airport had obtained the CTO from the TNPCB as per the procedure remitting all the fees required for all the years in lapse. However, he refused to comment further.
It is Muthuraman's contention that the airport authorities got the CTO now, as the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change had sought a valid CTO of the existing airport in the Terms of Reference related to the airport's expansion on August 13, 2020. The CTO was obtained for its pre-expansion area of 188 acre, he said, adding that the ministry had issued Environment Clearance for the expansion project while overlooking the decades-long violation by a government agency.
As the TNPCB had classified the Thoothukudi airport as an orange (large) category project, the activist pointed out that Section 21 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, necessitates CTO for any industrial plant while Section 37 punishes with one and half years imprisonment or a fine, or both for non-compliance. According to the Section 47 of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the authority concerned should file a case before the jurisdictional court to initiate legal action against the violator, and Section 48 lists out the officials of the government department to be inducted in the case, the activist pointed out.