Following a plea alleging non-utilisation of more than ₹800 crore towards Environment Relief Fund meant for victims of accidents in the process of handling hazardous substances, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) called it a “travesty of justice” that the fund was lying unutilised even after 29 years of enactment of the legislation.
A Bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel directed the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to look into the issue and take necessary action.
The Bench in its order said: “We find it to be a travesty of justice that even after 29 years of the enactment of a laudable welfare legislation and in spite of deposit of a huge amount meant for the needy victims, the amount remains unutilised to the detriment of the victims, for whose benefit the law was enacted.”
According to relevant sections of the PLI [Public Liability Insurance] Act (1991): “The source of the fund is the insurance premium to be paid by the owner handling any hazardous substance and liability to give relief is created under Section 3 on death or injury to any person or an accident involving hazardous substance.”
The tribunal noted that an amount of ₹881 crore was deposited with the United Insurance Company till March 2020 and that there was “no information whether any amount had been utilised.
Stating that there was an urgent need to bridge the existing gap and enforcement of the law, the Bench added: “The MoEF being nodal Ministry may look into this aspect and take necessary action. Industrial chemical accidents lead to injury to workers and fatalities. State pollution control boards and pollution control committees may ensure that industries required to take policies under the PLI Act are not granted consents [under relevant environmental law] till such policy is obtained.”
The green panel also asked the National Legal Service Authority and the State Legal Services Authorities to assist “victims of injustice to access justice” and take appropriate action.
The directions came when the tribunal was hearing a plea moved by Gyan Prakash, a former Central government employee, who contended that the amount meant for the Environment Relief Fund was lying unutilised.