National Green Tribunal | The bench comprising of Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), Sudhir Agarwal (Judicial Member), JJ., and A. Senthil Vel (Expert Member) took suo motu cognizance based on media report titled “7 Charred to death in fire near Ludhiana dumpsite” reporting the death of seven person, who belonged to a ragpicker family living near the landfill for the last ten years, in a fire at a garbage dump site at Tajpur road.
The Tribunal constituted a monitoring committee headed by Jasbir Singh J., to monitor compliance of certain orders of this Tribunal in Punjab and also, directed Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to issue a statutory order to prevent such fires and handle them effectively if it happens. The Tribunal also issued notice to the Chief Secretary, Punjab to throw light on the matter but he did not respond to the notice.
The monitoring committee submitted its report dated 15-05-2022. According to the report, the Municipal Corporation and other State Authorities failed to provide a clean environment and failed to comply with the SWM Rules not only at Ludhiana but in other places too. No steps were taken to dispose of 25-30 lakh tonnes legacy waste which is stored at 52 acres of land in Ludhiana. There is no segregation of mixed waste dumped at the site.
“The conditions in which rag pickers are living is pathetic who need to be rehabilitated. In any case, protective measures are required to be adopted to prevent danger to their lives and safety. Leachate water in large quantity is flowing from the site and children of rag pickers were seen playing with the leachate water which can “wet eyes of any on looker”.”
The report also mentioned that solid waste is illegally being buried into earth which could adversely affect the groundwater and soil fertility and wastewater as being discharged into river Sutlej. The report further dealt with facts leading to fire incident, probable reasons for catching the fire and cause of death, remedial action to save the lives of the persons residing near solid waste dumping site, disturbing trend to finish solid waste by burying it into womb of mother earth, non-compliance of NGT’s orders in certain cases, garbage vulnerable points in Ludhiana and recommendations, etc.
The Tribunal vide order dated 25-07-2022, held that the Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana is liable to deposit a sum of Rs. 100 crores as interim compensation for remedial measures which is to be overseen by the Monitoring Committee. Moreover, the victims are entitled to compensation of Rs. 57.5 lakhs. The Tribunal issued directions to the authorities to adopt necessary safety measures and asked them to file further action taken report.
“…in view of preponderance of probabilities that death of seven persons is attributable to fire of the dump site, the Municipal Corporation is held liable to pay compensation to their next of kin by way of deposit with the District Magistrate, Ludhiana within one month. Compensation is assessed at Rs. 57.5 lacs – Rs. 10 lacs each for persons aged above 50 and Rs.7.5 lac each to the persons below 20 on the principle laid down in MCD v. Uphaar Tragedy Victims Assn., (2011) 14 SCC 481.”
Dismissing the review application filed by the Municipal Corporation vide order dated 18-08-2022, the Tribunal held that merely making of a plan did not exonerate statutory liability to scientifically process the waste and past liability for damage to the environment.
The Tribunal observed that 5 lakhs MT of bioremediation work is taken up and the remaining 19.6 lakhs tonnes of bioremediation work is yet to take off. A compensation of Rs. 57.5 lakhs have been deposited in a separate account for disbursement after the police enquiry is completed. Municipal Corporation, Ludhiana also prepared a plan for remediation at the cost of Rs. 200 Crores and a sum of Rs. 40 Crores has been deposited in a separate account under the Deputy Commissioner.
The Tribunal opined that there is no reason for non-compliance of rest of the order and called the stand “untenable” and an “uncalled-for attempt of the Municipal Corporation” to link the disbursement of the compensation to the inquiry.
The Tribunal stated that the compensation payable to the victims has to be disbursed in the manner directed vide order dated 25.07.2022 and uncalled for attempt of the Municipal Corporation that disbursement of compensation will be linked to the Police enquiry is patently untenable. The compensation may be deposited/disbursed strictly as per directions vide order dated 25.07.2022.
The Tribunal further directed the Municipal Corporation to carry out its obligation for remediation of legacy waste of 30 lakhs MT as well as scientific management of current waste strictly in accordance with Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 and made Chief Secretary of the State personally accountable for continuing default.
[In re: News item published in The Indian Express dated 20-04- 2022, titled “7 Charred to death in fire near Ludhiana dumpsite”, 2022 SCC OnLine NGT 246, order dated 01-11-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. Ankit Siwach, Counsel for MC Ludhiana;
Mr. Amit Singh Chauhan, Counsel for CPCB.
*Ritu Singh, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.