The National Green Tribunal vide order dated 13.08.2020 imposed a fine of Rs. 286,00,00,000/ (Rupees Two Hundred and Eighty Six Crore Only)  on four companies namely Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, Aegis logistics and Sealord Containers for contributing substantially to presence of pollutants or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the air at Mumbai’s Mahul and Ambapada villages.

The order was passed in an application filed by one Charudutt Koli praying for the execution of the tribunal’s  order dated 18.12.2015 wherein the tribunal considered the issue of remedial steps to be taken for control of air pollution in the Mahul, Ambapada and Chembur areas in Mumbai.

As per the order dated 18.12.2015, It was found that there was deterioration of ambient air quality below the prescribed standards, there was threat to health of the residents due to the deteriorated air quality, probable sources for which were activities of M/s Sea Lord Containers Limited, Aegis Logistics Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited as well as other unidentified sources.

Accordingly, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board was directed to prepare a comprehensive action plan for control of air pollution. Health Impact Assessment study was directed to be carried out, apart from Volatile organic compounds assessment study. The Tribunal issued other incidental directions for prevention and remedial action by the operators of various projects as well as regulatory authorities.

The KEM hospital conducted a respiratory morbidity survey in Mahul and Ambapada villages and reported that in Mahul area, 67.1 per cent population had complains of breathlessness more than three times in a month, 76.3 per cent reported the complaints in all season, 86.6 per cent complained of eye-irritation and 84.5 per cent have history of persistent choking sensation in chest.

Thereafter, an execution application was filed before the Tribunal alleging non-compliance of the directions dated 18.12.2015 which was taken up for consideration on 05.02.2019, in light of earlier proceedings. The Tribunal considered the report of the Joint Committee dated 01.01.2019, finding damage to the air quality by Volatile organic compounds emissions and suggesting steps for control of Volatile organic compounds. The Tribunal directed remedial action and assessment of compensation on polluter pays principle.

A report dated 18.03.2020 has been filed in the present case by the Central Pollution Control Board determining the quantum of Volatile organic compounds emitted by the contesting respondent companies in the course of their operations in the outskirts of Mumbai, at and around villages Ambapada and Mahul.

After going through the said report the bench, headed by chairperson Adarsh Goel stated as follows, “While it is true that there may be many reasons for presence of VOCs in the atmosphere like vehicular emissions, etc., it cannot be denied that the said four companies e.g. ALL, SLCL, BPCL and HPCL contribute substantially and predominantly to the VOCs in Mahul and Ambapada villages. It is also scientifically proven that VOCs are potential cause for various serious ailments if humans are exposed to it for a long time. The prolonged exposure to HAPs even at miniscule level may weaken the lungs and other organs. Conditions prevailing in the area are sometimes likened to that of ‘Gas Chamber’.”

The tribunal noted that the Respondent companies had been taking actions to arrest the fugitive emissions which were particularly noticeable after 2015 and of late the industries have acted on implementation of action plan-

The CPCB has accordingly assessed the values of VOCs emissions based upon the data provided to them by the companies. In view of the submissions made by the CPCB and above discussion, the objections of the units regarding use of data prior to control measures and the incorrect application of the formula and methodology are untenable. We are satisfied that all the objections raised by the respondent companies have been duly considered by the CPCB’s in-house Technical Committee and we are satisfied with the correctness of the conclusion arrived at by the CPCB. No further hearing is necessary in view of clarifications made by the CPCB”, stated the bench.

Thus, the tribunal accepted CPCB’s report and directed the four Respondent companies to pay a total of Rs.286, 00, 00, 00/ (Rupees Two Hundred and Eighty Six Crores Only) as fine. The tribunal also constituted a ten-member joint committee comprising two senior nominees of Central Pollution Control Board, representative of MoEF & CC, State Pollution Control Board, District Magistrate, Mumbai, NEERI, TISS, Mumbai, IIT Mumbai, KEM Hospital, Mumbai and a nominee of Health Secretary Maharashtra, to prepare action plan for restoration measures spread over a span of time, not beyond five years. The State Pollution Control Board will be the nodal agency for the said plan.

The plan in particular will provide for dealing with health issues of the inhabitants and measures for control of pollution in the area, treating Ambapada, Mahul, Chembur and contiguous areas (as may be specified by the Committee) to be a Special Air Pollution Control Area for the restoration plan.

NGT appointed retired Bombay High Court judge Justice VM Kanade for overseeing the finalisation and execution of the action plan with the assistance of technical experts nominated by CPCB and State PCB.

Order:Order dated 13.08.2020