Environment

NGT Orders A Detailed Environmental And Health Study In SIPCOT Cuddalore

• First ever instance where NGT has ordered a health study to see impacts of industrial pollution on communities.
• NGT has directed the expert committee to apply “reverse engineering or relate back theory to the condition of air, water and soil in Cuddalore prior to the establishing of the SIPCOT Industrial Complex”
• Considers the principles of polluter pays, precautionary principle, sustainable development and intergenerational equity in deciding the case.
• Directs State Government, SIPCOT and Cuddalore SIPCOT Industrial Association to pay for the studies and clean up measures

The National Green Tribunal has ordered for the preparation of a comprehensive action plan and detailed health study to understand the reverse the effects of severe contamination of ground water by industries in the SIPCOT Cuddalore Industrial area. The NGT’s Southern Zone bench comprising of Justice K. Ramakrishnan and Expert
Member Shri. Saibal Dasgupta, in a 286-page landmark judgement have constituted an expert committee to formulate the action plan.

The bench also directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board “to initiate action against the industries identified and impose environmental compensation against them, after following the procedure in accordance with law”. Passing the order on Friday in the matter of OA No 34 of 2015 (SZ), S Pugazendhi vs Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Justice K. Ramakrishnan expressed grave concerns that there are several studies by the CPCB which have stated that SIPCOT Cuddalore is severe to critically polluted and the ground water quality is particularly
bad.

What makes this judgement truly first of its kind is that a comprehensive health study has been ordered in addition to an environmental study. “reverse engineering or relate back theory” has been recommended 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.

According to Ritwick Dutta, advocate for the petitioners, “this decision 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’ According to the order, “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”.

The order also stated that, “As an environment court, this Tribunal has got a responsibility, when it is found that the place continues to be a severely polluted area, at least in respect of water pollution, then applying the ‘precautionary’ principle and ‘polluter pays’ principle and ‘intergenerational equity’ to take measures to remedy the situation and give necessary direction to the persons who are responsible to carry out such directions to meet the situation”.

Welcoming the NGT’s order, the residents of villages around he 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, ground water contamination and adverse impacts on their health from the industries in the region. We welcome the Court’s order and now urge the state & 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.

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