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National Green Tribunal admits case on recurring fly-ash barge capsizing incidents on the Indo- Bangladesh Protocol Route

An NGT Bench consisting of Justice S.P. Wangdi and Expert Member Dr. Nagin Nanda,  has admitted a case filed by local traditional fisherfolk group- Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum. The Petition raises serious concerns regarding the adverse environmental impact arising out of the frequent capsizing of barges carrying fly-ash on the lndo- Bangladesh Protocol Route which flows through the highly eco-sensitive and fragile Sundarbans in the State of West Bengal. Over the past few months, there have been several incidents of barges carrying fly ash capsizing in this route, between Marchand May, even though there was a nation-wide lockdown, at least 5 such incidents have been reported, wherein the entire cargo of fly ash was discharged into the riverine ecosystem. Such frequent accidents arising out of plying of unseaworthy barges and negligent navigation have directly and adversely impacted the livelihood of around 5000 families belonging totraditional fishing communities due to the disturbance caused to the riverine ecology as a result of such accidents.

The petition had highlighted that the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has the primary responsibility of ensuring safe and proper navigation of cargo on these routes. Further, the IWAI has not followed the CPCB guidelines on transportation of fly-ash which specifically stipulates use of specialised barges for the transport of toxic fly-ash. The Petition also highlighted the lack of EIA and Biodiversity Impact Assessment studies for the operation of waterways through the Sunderbans despite it being a CRZ 1A (ecologically sensitive) and identified Critically Vulnerable Coastal Area under the CRZ Notification, 2011/19. Thus, the Petition sought restoration of the riverine ecology, for which a time bound action plan is prepared and accountability and liability is fixed; to impose environmental compensation on IWAI as well as the responsible barge owner for causing damage to the riverine and estuarine environment; detailed EIA and biodiversity impact assessment prior to permitting operation of the waterways through the Sundarbans; and, assessment and disbursement of compensation to the affected fisherfolk families.

The Tribunal while admitting the petition, has appointed a committee consisting of the Central and State Pollution Control Board, District Magistrate of the South 24 Paraganas District and the PCCF, Wildlife to look into the serious issues raised by the fisherfolk communities and to examine the factors contributing to such a situation an suggest measures to prevent the occurrence of the same in the future. The Committee has been directed to submit its report within two months.

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