The Gujarat Maritime Board had failed to take appropriate measures to avoid air and water pollution at the Navlakhi Port, the National Green Tribunal observed in a judgment passed last month.
The Navlakhi Port, operated by GMB, is an all weather lighterage port located on the southwest end of the Gulf of Kutch in Hansthal Creek. It has an installed coal handling capacity of 8.05 million tonnes per annum. The coal handled is mainly imported.
In an application filed before the NGT, Amreli-based Rajendrasinh Mansinh Kashtrya had stated that the Navlakhi Port was handling coal units, dumping coal near open areas and transporting coal to nearby places in violation of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, as well as the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and the guidelines laid down for coal handling, thereby causing air and water pollution.
The Navlakhi Port being a lighterage port cannot be accessed by large vessels. The large vessels carrying coal have to be anchored far away. The coal from large vessels is first moved to small ships and then transported to the Port. The coal arriving through the small ships get unloaded at the Port and then stacked in huge heaps. Thereafter, it is loaded on trucks and supplied to the consumers.
Kashtrya said in his application before the NGT that the handling of coal at the Port without a proper management system caused air pollution affecting the health of people in the area. The GMB had not provided water fogging and sprinkling system in the coal handling area and there was no compound wall around the coal yards, he pointed out. The emission of coal dust also adversely affected the agricultural fields nearby.
Kashtrya drew attention to the fact that the Gujarat Pollution Control Board had noted several deficiencies in the coal handling of the Port and given directions from time to time. The consent to operate was denied on two occasions but the Port’s coal handling system failed to show any improvement, he said, seeking directions from the NGT to stop the coal handling unit at the Port. He also sought an assessment by GPCB of the damage done to the environment and marine life, restoration of the area by GMB on the basis of ‘polluter pays’ principle and action against GMB for violating environmental laws.
After hearing the counsels of the applicant as well as GMB and GPCB, the NGT bench of Justice V.R. Kingaonkar (Judicial Member) and Dr. Ajay A. Deshpande (Expert Member) noted that GMB appeared to be sitting over the correctional measures required to be taken for improving coal handling system at the Port.
In a judgment dated July 17th, 2014, the NGT bench directed the GMB to strictly comply with the action plan recommended by the Civil Engineering Department of M.S. University, Baroda, for improving the coal handling system at the Port. The Civil Engineering Department of M.S. University had given its recommendations in a report dated March 22nd, 2014, on the directions of NGT. The first nine recommendations in the report have to be complied with within four weeks from the date of the judgment and the other three within six months. The NGT bench directed GPCB to monitor the compliances periodically at each quarter, and in case of violation of the Air Act, Water Act and Hazardous Waste Management Rules, initiate appropriate legal action. GPCB was asked not to give its consent for operating the Port if the recommendations in the report were not complied with within the given time frame. In the event GPCB declined consent for operating the Port due to non-compliances, the same would not be approved without the permission of NGT. In addition to directing GMB to pay litigation costs and counsel’s fees to the applicant, the bench asked GPCB to assess the damage caused due to improper handling of coal at the Port. The amount for such damages would be recovered from GMB for payment to the victims on the basis of ‘polluter pays’ principle. The GPCB was asked to frame its environmental enforcement policy within 12 weeks and publish the same on its website for public information.