The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to continuously monitor the air, including for toxic gases, of the units in SIPCOT, Cuddalore.

A Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and R. Subbiah was disposing of a writ petition by the member-secretary, Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority. A news item in The Hindu on September 21, 2004, under the headline “Villages in Cuddalore industrial estate toxic hot spot,” was ordered to be taken as a writ petition by the then Chief Justice.

In the petition, a direction to authorities was sought to provide safety to the villagers around the SIPCOT industrial estate near Cuddalore town by constantly monitoring the air, implement an air pollution programme and long term health monitoring of the residents.

The report said 20,000 residents of 10 villages and several hamlets around the over two-decade old SIPCOT industrial estate were exposed to high levels of 22 volatile organic compounds, including eight cancer-causing ones, mostly released by factories in the complex.

The Bench said there was force in the contentions by some of the industrial units that they alone could not be blamed for the pollution. This was because there were several additional factors such as burning of garbage and vehicular traffic.

The Court said in the absence of any technical data provided by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) or TNPCB to distinguish the pollution due to other units or other factors, it was unable to either justify or reject the units’ contention. However, being a statutory body, the burden lies on TNPCB and also the Central Pollution Control Board to take all necessary steps to combat pollution.

Material had been placed before the Court by some of the units that their emissions were within the prescribed limits and that no legal action had been initiated against them by the authorities concerned. The Bench appreciated such units.

It directed TNPCB to monitor the air continuously. If any violation was noticed, it should take necessary legal action against the errant units, the direction added.

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