Form district-level panels in Gujarat to compensate those suffering from environmental degradation

pollutionMahesh Pandya of Paryavan Mitra, environmental NGO based in Ahmedabad, in a letter to Vijay Rupani, Gujarat chief minister, has made a plea* to form a Committee in every district in Gujarat for assessing compensation due to environmental degradation caused by industries. Text of the letter:

Paryavaran Mitra is a Gujarat-based voluntary organization working on socio-environmental issues since 1997. Our organisation is active in bringing awareness in matters of environmental and climate change issues and imparting education on the same.

We would firstly like to appreciate the thoughts and initiative put up by the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad, mentioned in the Judgement of the petitioner Solanki Jaswantsinh Kalusinh of the Special Civil Application No. 9699 of 2008 as stated by the Honourable Chief Justice, Mr K.S. Radhakrishnan and Honourable Mr Justice Akil Kureshi. In the Judgement, the Chief Justice demanded direction to the problems of water and air pollution in villages, stating that in order to ensure justice or compensation to their problems, committees should be formed, with the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) managing and handling their cases.

There have been many statements of shock and surprise, wondering as to why farmers are forced to reach the High Courts, as no action or necessary steps are taken to help them by the GPCB.

The Judgement said:

“It is, therefore, highly imperative that in such cases of environmental pollution, it is the responsibility of the respondent GPCB to bring it to the knowledge of the District Judge and District Collector of the District for assessing compensation due to environmental degradation caused by the respective industries. These directions shall be followed by all the authorities concerned.”

Also:

“We have indicated that in few cases the affected parties have approached Civil Courts which in our view is not a speedy remedy. There must be some mechanism so that damage caused can be assessed as early as possible and the victims be compensated. Why should farmers be penalized for the inaction of the officers of the GPCB and due to the wrongful discharge of effluents into water courses?

“In such a situation, the only course open to us is to give a direction to the GPCB to see that as soon as on inspection it finds an industrial unit is causing serious environmental pollution, the matter may immediately be reported to the Principal District Judge and the District Collector of the concerned District.

“District Judge in consultation with the District Collector will take immediate steps to depute a team consisting of members of GPCB, District Collector Secretaries of Forest and Environment Department, Irrigation and Water Resources Department, Animal Husbandry Department, President of Gram Panchayat/Municipality or their representatives for inspection so as to assess the extent of pollution and harm caused to the environment.

“Committee would issue notice to the polluter, assess the compensation and submit its report to the District Judge. District Judge Would examine and decide about the damage caused to the environment and direct payment of a reasonable amount to the ‘Environment Fund’ to be maintained by the State Government. Compensation payable to the affected parties will also be determined by the District Judge after hearing the polluter and taking note of objections, if any. The District Judge can also determine the costs incurred by the Committee. The order of the District Judge Would be treated as a decree and the same can be executed.”

After this Judgement, number of pollution-related cases that are occurring in Gujarat, be it gas leakage, or fire, or explosion, have increased and in the absence of the Committee. Hence, either people have to go to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) or the High Court as they are not provided with any compensation.

Therefore, we wish to request the Gujarat government to form a committee, under which all the issues and problems faced by the villagers and farmers due to pollution caused in their areas can be solved. Such committees that we request you to from should be present in every district and village of Gujarat, so that a direction is given to such problems.

*Copy of the letter sent to chief secretary Dr JN Singh; principal secretary, forest and environment department; and chairman, Gujarat Pollution Control Board

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