The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has awarded Rs100 crores in environmental compensation against Kochi Municipal Corporation for alleged continuing neglect of its duties resulting in a fire at a waste dump site in Kochi.
The bench comprising Chairperson Justice A.K. Goel, judicial member Justice Sudhir Agarwal, and an expert member was hearing a matter in which it had initiated suo-motu (on its own) proceedings on the basis of a media report on an environmental emergency caused due to a fire at a dump site in Kochi.
"Proceedings have been initiated in this matter suo-motu in the light of captioned media report of a serious environmental emergency caused due to fire at a waste dump site in Kochi as a result of the utter failure of the state authorities in performing their inalienable basic duties of providing pollution free environment," the bench said.
"According to a media report, Kochi city was choked on account of a fire at a waste dump site on March 2, 2023, which led to a crisis situation. A warning was issued to the residents to stay indoors and asking the hospitals to prepare emergency admission of patients with respiratory distress to deal with severe air pollution and its worrying public health fallout," the bench said.
"We are conscious that an identical issue is being dealt with by the Kerala High Court but we make it clear that this order is without prejudice to and subject to the said proceedings. We are also informed that an identical issue is pending before the South Zone bench of the Tribunal. South Zone Bench may accordingly, take into account this order before proceeding further in any pending matter," the order read.
The bench was of the view that the State of Kerala and its authorities have rampantly violated the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, and several orders of NGT on the matter of solid waste management.
The bench said except for giving future plans, there was no fixing of accountability, nor were proceedings initiated against those guilty of criminal offences under the Environment (Protection) Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“Such attitude of state authorities is a threat to the rule of law. We hope that the situation is remedied at the higher level in the state, such as the director general of police (DGP) and the chief secretary, to uphold the Constitution and the mandate of environmental law,” it said.
Considering the monetary liability for the damage to the environment for failing to comply with solid waste management norms and the “long-continuing neglect of its duties by the Kochi Municipal Corporation”, the green panel directed the corporation to pay an environmental compensation (EC) of Rs 100 crore.
The amount has to be deposited with the chief secretary of the southern state within a month for necessary remediation measures, including dealing with the public health issues of the victims, the tribunal said.
“Apart from the above, we direct the chief secretary, Kerala to fix accountability of the officers concerned for such gross failures and initiate action under criminal law as well as by way of departmental proceedings, following due process, and place the same in the public domain within two months,” the tribunal said.
Image source: PTI