The National Green Tribunal has directed the Kochi Municipal Corporation in Kerala to pay an environmental compensation of Rs 100 crore for the damage to the environment because of its failure to handle solid waste.
The green panel has also observed that the state of Kerala and the authorities concerned have been an ‘utter failure’ and have ‘rampantly violated the statutory solid waste management rules and orders’, and the attitude of the authorities in not fixing accountability for environmental violations was ‘a threat to the rule of law’.
The National Green Tribunal 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.
“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 and it may, accordingly, take into account this order before proceeding further with any pending matter,” a bench of Chairperson Justice AK Goel said.
The bench, also comprising judicial member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and expert member A Senthil Vel, said the reason for considering the issue was that the matter was being dealt with by the principal bench here for more than eight years on the direction of the Supreme Court through its order dated Sept 2, 2014.
It said the state of Kerala and its authorities have been an “utter failure and have rampantly violated the statutory solid waste management rules and orders” of the Supreme Court and the tribunal.
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.
“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 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 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. P