Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Bench comprising of S.P. Wangdi (JM), K. Ramakrishnan (JM) and Dr Nagin Nanda (EM) imposed Rs 5 Crores as interim environmental compensation on State of West Bengal following the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ due to the adverse air quality.

The present order was followed to be read out due to the alarming adverse air quality of the Kolkata city. Principal reason for bad ambient and air quality was identified to be auto emission apart from road dust, construction activities, burning of municipal waste and industrial wastes including plastics, population of DG sets and industrial emissions. For the stated issue, State had failed to take any effective measures.

NGT was compelled to pass the present order, as specific directions had been issued for phasing out vehicles which were more than 15 years old, further it was also observed by the Tribunal that the judgment passed by the Tribunal for the issue of air pollution was far from being complied. NGT had also directed the State respondents to introduce some mechanism in order to check the emissions of moving overloaded vehicles. All commercial transport vehicles were asked to be converted to CNG.

In spite of more than 7 months having being elapsed, no tangible action was taken by the State and placed before the Tribunal and State Pollution Control Board had remained blissfully silent. Reliance was placed on M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (2004) 12 SCC 118, in which it was stated that “If the regulatory authorities either connive or act negligently by not taking prompt action to prevent, avoid or control damage to environment, natural resources, people’s health and property, the principle of accountability for restoration and compensation have to be applied.”

Thus, State of West Bengal was directed to pay compensation of Rs 5 Crores and on delay, Rs 1 Crore per month by following the ‘Polluter Pays Principle’ in terms of Section 20 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. The matter is further listed for 08-01-2019. [Subhas Datta v. State of West Bengal,2018 SCC OnLine NGT 345, Order dated 27-11-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal (NGT): The Bench comprising of A.K Goel, Chairperson; S.P. Wangdi, Judicial Member; and Nagin Nanda, Executive Member, addressed the alarming and menacing situation of air pollution and crop burning being the major contributory factor to it.

In the present application, it was noted that the major issue to be considered by the bench is relating to crop burning primarily in the States of Punjab, Haryana and to some extent in the States of Uttar Pradesh and the NCT of Delhi, leading to deterioration of air quality. Further, in the application, it was mentioned that there is a scheme in place called “National Policy for Management of Crop Residue-2014”, for assistance to farmers for burning of the crop through machinery and equipments. Niti Ayog also organised programmes on the same subject for the farmers. After all the mentioned measures and steps, the problem still persists.

In an earlier order of the Tribunal, it was noted that 15,000 pre-mature deaths took place in Delhi in the year 2016 due to smog, to which crop burning was a contributing factor.

On considering the earlier orders of the Tribunal along with the articles that concern with air pollution levels, etc. by newspapers such as Times of India, Indian Express, the NGT noted that the problem as mentioned above remains at standstill and unresolved, to which a suggestion was made to be considered that, “those who help the environment by not burning the crop deserve incentive”. It was also made clear that existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) Scheme must be so interpreted so as to enable the States concerned to wholly or partly deny the benefit of MSP on burning crop residue. The said scheme is to be worked out preferably by 14-11-2018.

While concluding its order, the Tribunal also directed the Secretary (Agriculture), Government of India and Chief Secretaries of States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and NCT of Delhi to find a long-lasting solution to the problem of crop burning after doing a strategic planning. The matter is to be further considered on 15-11-2018. [Ganga Lalwani v. Union of India,2018 SCC OnLine NGT 339, Order dated 12-11-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Human Rights Commission: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken cognizance of a complaint raising the issue of right to health of traffic police personnel, across the country. Allegedly, the high air pollution is causing reduced life expectancy among them as the vehicular pollution affects their respiratory system. It also affects the reproductive system. Most of the State governments are not providing any extra allowances or health facilities to the traffic police personnel.

The Commission has issued a notice to the Union Home Secretary and Chief Secretaries of all States and UTs calling for their detailed response in the matter, within eight weeks, positively. In case, the response is not received within the stipulated time, the Commission shall be constrained to invoke coercive process u/S 13 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

National Human Rights Commission

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Dr. AK Sikri, Abhay Manohar Sapre and Ashok Bhushan, JJ banned the sale of fireworks in the Delhi-NCR area till November 1, 2017 in order to keep a check on the air pollution caused by bursting crackers. The Court said that the order suspending the licences should be given one chance to test itself in order to find out as to whether there would be positive effect of this suspension, particularly during Diwali period.

On the deteriorating air quality in NCR, the Court said:

“The air quality deteriorates abysmally and alarmingly and the city chokes thereby. It leads to closing the schools and the authorities are compelled to take various measures on emergent basis, when faced with ‘health emergency’ situation.”

The Court, however, clarified that it was not tweaking with the various directions contained in the Orders dated 12.09.2017 and hence, that order will be made effective only from November 01, 2017. On 12.09.2017, the ban imposed by the order dated 11.11.2016 was temporarily relaxed and the bench of Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ had given elaborate directions to check the health hazard caused by Diwali Fireworks in Delhi. The Court had also appointed a Committee to be chaired by the Chairperson of the CPCB and consisting of officers at the appropriate level from the National Physical Laboratory, Delhi, the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Timarpur, Delhi, the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, scientists from the State Pollution Control Boards, the Fire Development and Research Centre, Sivakasi and Nagpur and the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) nominated by the Chairperson of the CPCB to submit a report in this regard preferably on or before 31st December, 2017.

The Court directed that the temporary licences that the police may have issued after the order dated 12.09.2017, should be suspended forthwith so that there is no further sale of the crackers in Delhi and NCR.

In the present case, the Court was hearing the plea made by the petitioners who sought for restoration of the order of complete suspension of licences by restoring the Order passed on 11.11.2016. The Court refused to put a blanket ban on sale of crackers as of now and said that further orders in this behalf will be passed only after assessing the situation that would emerge after this Diwali season. [Arjun Gopal v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1203, decided on 09.10.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Considering the necessity to give precedence to the health of the people in Delhi and in the NCR over any commercial or other interest, the bench of Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ issued elaborate directions and  said that keeping in mind the adverse effects of air pollution, the human right to breathe clean air and the human right to health, the Central  Government and other authorities should consider encouraging display fireworks through community participation rather than individual bursting of fireworks.

The directions issued by the Court are as follows:

  • The concerned police authorities and the District Magistrates will ensure that fireworks are not burst in silence zones that is, an area at least 100 meters away from hospitals, nursing homes, primary and district health-care centres, educational institutions, courts, religious places or any other area that may be declared as a silence zone by the concerned authorities.
  • The Delhi Police is directed to reduce the grant of temporary licences by about 50% of the number of licences granted in 2016. The number of temporary licences should be capped at 500.
  • The Union of India will update and revise and ensure strict compliance with the Notification dated 27th January, 1992 regarding the ban on import of fireworks.
  • The Department of Education of the Government of NCT of Delhi and the corresponding Department in other States in the NCR shall immediately formulate a plan of action, in not more than 15 days, to reach out to children in all the schools through the school staff, volunteers and NGOs to sensitize and educate school children on the health hazards and ill-effects of breathing polluted air, including air that is polluted due to fireworks. School children should be encouraged to reduce, if not eliminate, the bursting of fireworks as a part of any festivities.
  • Fireworks containing aluminium, sulphur, potassium and barium may be sold in Delhi and in the NCR, provided the composition already approved by Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO) is maintained. However, the use of compounds of antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead in the manufacture of fireworks as well as the use of strontium chromate in the manufacture of fireworks is prohibited.
  • 50,00,000 kg of fireworks is far more than enough for Dussehra and Diwali in 2017, hence, transport of fireworks into Delhi and the NCR from outside the region is prohibited and the concerned law enforcement authorities will ensure that there is no further entry of fireworks into Delhi and the NCR till further orders. The permanent licensees are at liberty to take measures to transport the stocks outside Delhi and the NCR.
  • The suspension of permanent licences as directed by the order dated 11th November, 2016 is lifted for the time being. However, the suspension might be reviewed after Diwali depending on the ambient air quality post Diwali.
  • Research study must be jointly carried out by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Fireworks Development Research Centre (FDRC) laying down appropriate standards for ambient air quality in relation to the bursting of fireworks and the release of their constituents in the air. Also, a research study needs to be conducted on the impact of bursting fireworks during Dussehra and Diwali on the health of the people.

The Court appointed a Committee to be chaired by the Chairperson of the CPCB and consisting of officers at the appropriate level from the National Physical Laboratory, Delhi, the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Timarpur, Delhi, the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, scientists from the State Pollution Control Boards, the Fire Development and Research Centre, Sivakasi and Nagpur and the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) nominated by the Chairperson of the CPCB to submit a report in this regard preferably on or before 31st December, 2017. [Arjun Gopal v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 1071, decided on 12.09.2017]


Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Taking cognizance of far reaching effects of air pollution suo motu, the  Court asked the Governments of States of Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, NCT of Delhi and the centre to file affidavits before the Court explaining the steps that are being taken within their jurisdictions to minimise air pollution. The affidavits were filed before a Division Bench comprising of S. Ravindra Bhat and S.P. Garg, JJ.

In the aforementioned affidavits, the States gave detailed explanation of the educating and awareness programmes which are in effect along with measures taken to detect and punish persons engaged in stubble burning. The Court, after due regard to all affidavits, gave the direction to the States to file periodic status reports through further affidavits. The affidavits are to be filed not later than by the second Tuesday of every alternative month, the next date being before 14th November, 2017. The affidavits are to be standardized and are to include the following particulars:

· Steps towards education and awareness relating to ills of stubble burning.

· Notifications, if issued, along with amendments/modifications if applicable.

· The number of times Standing Committees met during the interregnum period to monitor the progress of work done and progress, along    with copies of the minutes.

· The number of persons booked for stubble burning.

· Progress achieved in regard to research and development or alternative practices.

The Court further stated that it required the Union Secretaries, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare to explore the possibility of creating a fund for innovation in farming techniques in coordination with such educational or technical institutions as are feasible to innovate new methods which are efficient and environment friendly. The Court directed the three Secretaries to hold a meeting in this regard within three weeks. The Central Government, may also create a fund and a Task Force in this regard, said the Court. The next hearing will take place on 29th August, 2017. [Court on its own Motion (Air Pollution in Delhi) v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine Del 9428, order dated 18.07.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Stating that the sale and registration and therefore the commercial interests of manufacturers and dealers of such vehicles that do not meet the Bharat Stage-IV (BS-IV) emission standards as on 1st April, 2017 does not take primacy over the health hazard due to increased air pollution of millions of our country men and women, the Court directed that  on and from 1st April, 2017 such vehicles that are not BS-IV compliant shall not be sold or registered in India by any manufacturer or dealer, that is to say that such vehicles whether two wheeler, three wheeler, four wheeler or commercial vehicles will not be sold in India by any manufacturer or dealer on and from 1st April, 2017.

With regard to the sale and registration of the existing stock of such vehicles that comply with BS-III emission standards, the manufacturers contended that they are entitled to manufacture such vehicles till 31st March, 2017 and in so doing, they have not violated any prohibition or any law. Hence, the sale and registration of such vehicles on and from 1st April, 2017 ought not to be prohibited and that they may be given reasonable time to dispose of the existing stock of such vehicles. On the other hand, the learned Amicus contended that permitting such vehicles to be sold or registered on or after 1st April, 2017 would constitute a health hazard to millions of our country men and women by adding to the air pollution levels in the country, which are already quite alarming.

Accepting the contention of the Amicus, the bench of Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ said that the number of such vehicles may be small compared to the overall number of vehicles in the country but the health of the people is far, far more important than the commercial interests of the manufacturers or the loss that they are likely to suffer in respect of the so-called small number of such vehicles. The Court also said that the manufacturers of such vehicles were fully aware that eventually from 1st April, 2017 they would be required to manufacture only BS-IV compliant vehicles but for reasons that are not clear, they chose to sit back and declined to take sufficient pro-active steps. [M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 2017 SCC OnLine SC 291, order dated 29.03.2017]

Tribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Green Tribunal: While raising concern over the increase in air pollution in the NCT of Delhi which are injurious to human health, particularly to lungs and ENT diseases, NGT has suggested the Committee headed by Secretary, MoEF to come out with an Action Plan at the earliest. Meanwhile, the Tribunal issued certain directions for the purpose of providing clean air to the people such as,

  •  Banned all the vehicles which are more than 15 year old to ply on the roads or park in any public places.
  •  Banned burning of Plastic and any other material including tree leaves in an open area.
  • Directed the Respondents to build cycle tracks in Delhi and efforts should be made to encourage cycling in Delhi.
  •  NCT, Delhi and DPCC directed to create a web portal where any person aggrieved can take photographs and upload the same and bring it to the notice of the authorities.
  •  Directed Commissioner of Police of Delhi, NCT of Delhi, Municipal Authorities and DPCCs to ensure that tarred roads for regular traffic not to be used for parking which causes avoidable congestion of traffic.
  • All agencies should ensure that there should be only one side of parking and sufficient space is left for atleast both way carriage and there should be  free flow of traffic and should not be obstructed by excessive and unregulated parking on the road.
  • Ministries, NCT of Delhi and DPCC directed to examine the possibility of installation of air purifiers in all the markets and crowded places or where the traffic load is heavier.
  • Automatic or censor based weigh bridges shall be installed immediately on all the entries and exit point of Delhi

Vardhaman Kaushik vs. Union of India,  decided on 26.11.2014