The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Friday held four companies, including Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL) responsible for creating a “gas chamber” like situation in Mumbai’s Ambapada, Mahul, and Chembur. A plea was filed by a Mumbai resident, CharudattKoli seeking execution for control of air pollution in the areas, particularly by the companies. The tribunal has imposed a fine of Rs. 286.2 crore for the damage caused to the environment.
A bench headed by the NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Goel observed that “While it is true that there may be many reasons for the presence of VOCs in the atmosphere, like vehicular emissions, etc., it cannot be denied that the said four companies… contribute substantially and predominantly to the VOCs in Mahul and Ambapada villages”.
The Tribunal had sought a ‘respiratory morbidity survey’ report from KEM Hospital in Mumbai in 2015 of residents in Ambapada, Chembur, and Mahul. While the survey found that the prolonged exposure to the hazardous air pollutants in those areas have caused harmful effects to the people residing there, the tribunal said that such prevailing conditions in the area are sometimes similar to that of 'Gas Chamber'. The plea stated the major contributors to the air pollution to be the logistic services, storing oil, gas, and chemical items, as well as oil companies releasing emissions of Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during loading, storage, and unloading or handling of hazardous chemicals at various stages.
The NGT bench, apart from BPCL and HPCL, also asked Aegis Logistics Ltd. And M/s Sealord Container Ltd to pay the penalty. It has directed HPCL to pay Rs 76.5 crore, BPCL Rs 67.5 crore, Aegis Rs 142 crore, and Sealord Rs 20 lakh. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had constituted an in-house technical committee to determine the damage caused to the environment and arrive at the cost to be imposed on the companies based on the absolute liability principle. A 10-member joint committee has been appointed by the bench comprising of two CPCB nominees and representatives of the Union Environment Ministry and Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board and other health experts as well. The committee, under the supervision of Former Bombay High Court judge Justice V.M. Kanade, will prepare an action plan for restoration measures in the affected areas. The Joint Committee will be free to take assistance from any other expert/institution and invite the respondents to key meetings, the bench said. [READ ORDER]