Environmental expert Mahesh Pandya* writes on the significance of the latest National Green Tribunal (NTG) judgment on the highly mismanaged solid waste management site by Rajkot Municipal Corporation’s contractors:
The Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) has been in contract with the Hanjer Biotech Energies Pvt Ltd. (HBEPL) since 2005 for providing adequate service facility, maintaining hygiene, waste conservation and managing solid waste at the municipal solid waste (MSW) landfill site in accordance with the MSW rules. But as a result of complete mismanagement of the waste at the landsite, the rural population of the surrounding regions was facing problems of leachate-groundwater problem, adversely impacting ambient air quality, and degradation of the quality of farmlands. All this was happening, and several other issues of pollution had arisen, because of dispersal of ill-treated or untreated municipal solid waste. Despite this, more land was allotted for landfill to the same contractor, which would have only added to air and water degradation.
The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) issued several notices to the RMC, yet the latter refused to take any action towards rectifying the situation. As a result, a case was filed by the non-profit environmental organization, Paryavaran Mitra, environmentalist Shailendrasinh Jadeja and residents of village Nakravadi, which was affected the most, in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the GPCB, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the RMC and the HBEPL for polluting the atmosphere around.
The main demands raised in the case were:
- The present site where MSW was being dumped should be closed, as it was selected against rules.
- Compensation should be paid to the people who have been affected in terms of livestock, health, village common lands, source of water, agriculture etc.
- During the visit to the landfill by authorities various irregularities were seen, even then no action was taken.
- There should be restitution of land in question to its original position.
During the arguments that ensued, the GPCB said it took prompt action against the RMC when complaints were received in the matter. It also said that if any harsh or monetary restrictions were imposed leading to cancellation of contract it would have led to environmental pollution. It simultaneously said that the RMC had failed to ensure compliance to ensure air pollution control, nor did it build any proper fencing to ensure that the residual waste that was being dumped remained within the defined premises. As for the CPCB, it said the matter concerned Gujarat, and it had no role to play, and declined to give any comments.
The RMC denied the allegations leveled against it and the contractor, especially the fact that the site was harmful to the environment. It also said that the site was 800-100 metres away from the villages and it was selected in accordance to the existing environmental rules. The RMC alleged that second cell was in the process of completion and would be of the capacity 2,00,000 metric tonnes, and thereafter there would be no possibility of run off the waste from landfill area once it was ready for use.
The RMC also argued that shutting down of the plant which handles 400-450 million tonnes of MSW every day would be dangerous to environment, as it would result in spreading of epidemic. It claimed that the applications, who had filed the case with the NGT, had been filed it due to some vested interests. The response of the HBEPL was similar to that of the RMC. It denied violation of MSW rules. Its counsel said that the HBEPL was only a contractor of the RMC and had therefore no separate rights.
On hearing the two sides, the National Green Tribunal reached the conclusion that:
- RMC had not provided proper arrangements for treatment facility, protection walls, leachate collection, RDF plant, composting , foul smell, etc.
- The GPCB had issued various notices to the RMC regarding failure to properly to manage the waste, yet no followup action was taken.
- No greenbelt was developed as per the condition of authorization in the contract.
- There was failure of completion of work of the second site by the HBEPL, which is already delayed by five years. At one point, it even led to end of the contract by the RMC, but the matter was settled “amicably”.
- There was complete failure on the part of the HBEPL in managing the waste as no proper treatment facility was provided, nor was any protection wall erected.
At the same time, the NTG said that the site selection issue was not open for reconsideration and the landfill site was selected after proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study was carried out through a Central government agency and was allotted for use to the RMC by the state government. Hence, it said, the real problem was not of site selection as such but rather of mismanagement of waste at the present site, arising mainly because the landfill was filled up to beyond its full capacity.
Based on these conclusions, the NTG gave its judgment in favour of the Paryavaran Mitra and others, and ordered the RMC to compensate the affected villagers Rs 20,000 each. It asked the RMC to deposit Rs 25 lakh with the Rajkot collector, who should make a survey of the affected villagers to be paid the compensation. The NTG further asked the RMC to pay up Rs1,00,000 to Paryavaran Mitra, Shailendrasinh Jadeja and other applicants as expenses. At the same time, the NTG dismissed the plea of restitution of land. Even then, it ordered the RMC to ensure creation of several facilities for proper operation, treatment and processing at the site, including greenbelt and compound wall.
The NGT significantly asked the GPCB to conduct and air and water monitoring of not just the present. The GPCB was asked to submit a status report of all the MSW facilities in the state, operated by all the municipal corporations of Gujarat and councils, to the urban development department, Government of Gujarat, so that such issues did not crop at other places in future. It added, based on such a status report by the GPCB, the officials should intervene and take measures for effective implementation of MSW rules.
Director, Paryavaran Mitra