In a first, NGT orders health study over groundwater contamination at SIPCOT Cuddalore
The green bench constituted an expert committee to formulate the action plan, while directing the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to initiate action against the erring industries
CHENNAI: In a landmark judgement, the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered the preparation of a comprehensive action plan and detailed health study to understand and reverse the effects of severe contamination of groundwater by industries in the SIPCOT industrial area in Cuddalore.
The green bench comprising Justice K Ramakrishnan and Expert Member Saibal Dasgupta constituted an expert committee to formulate the action plan, while directing the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to initiate action against the erring industries and impose environmental compensation against them in accordance with law.
The 286-page judgement is seen as a first of its kind by environmental activists considering the NGT has asked for a comprehensive health study in addition to an environmental study. The judgement talked about "“reverse engineering or relate back theory” to ascertain pollution and its health impacts. An in-depth study will have to be conducted by comparing the situation prevailing prior to the establishment of the industrial complex and post establishment to ascertain the environment degradation, by applying the reverse engineering or relate back theory to ascertain the source and probable reason and person(s) responsible for the same.
Justice K Ramakrishnan expressed grave concerns that there are several studies by the Central Pollution Contorl Board (CPCB) which have stated that SIPCOT Cuddalore is severely to critically polluted and the groundwater quality is particularly bad.
Noted environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who represented the petitioners, said: "This judgement is truly landmark in the depth at which the tribunal dealt with the issue before it. The various technical and scientific reports were considered by the tribunal while issuing comprehensive direction to remedy the situation. The 286-page judgment reflects that the NGT conducted a detailed merit review of the existing actions to deal with the environmental problems and clearly felt that it was inadequate and there is a need for more scientific assessment and action to ensure that local community has the right to clean water is restored and recognized. This is the first time the NGT has looked into the intersectionality of environment and health and ordered a comprehensive health study. This is clearly a precedent setting judgment of the tribunal."
The order says, “This Tribunal feels that it is necessary to appoint a comprehensive committee to conduct an elaborate comprehensive study in respect of the SIPCOT, Cuddalore viz. water pollution, the source of heavy metals, remedial measures to be taken and identify the persons responsible for such degradation and collect environmental compensation from those persons who are responsible for such act, by applying ‘polluter pays’ principle and also to conduct health study impact of such things on the health of the people in that locality and provide necessary remedial measures to resolve the issue permanently, suggesting recommendations and the persons who are expected to carry out such recommendations and implementation of the action plan in an effective manner.”
Welcoming the NGT’s order, residents of villages around the SIPCOT Cuddalore Industrial area said this is an important victory in their struggle to reclaim their rights to clean air and water. “The NGT order is a victory for people who have suffered severe pollution, groundwater contamination and adverse impacts on their health from the industries in the region. We welcome the tribunal's order and now urge the state and district administration to ensure that this order and these recommendations are implemented in a time-bound manner to ensure that there is no further damage from industrial activities on our health and environment. We also urge the government to ensure that no further expansion or new industries are started in the region until all these violations are corrected and adverse impacts reversed,” said S Pugazendhi, the petitioner in the case.
The NGT-appointed expert committee would comprise a senior scientist from CPCB, TNPCB, expert in chemical engineering from National Institute of Science, Tiruchirappalli, scientist having knowledge of industrial pollution from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, senior health officer from Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, Chennai, and the Cuddalore district collector.