The National Green Tribunal strove to play an effective role in resolving environmental disputes in 2019 with cleaning of Ganga and Yamuna taking centre stage as the panel highlighted the urgency of the matter saying “every drop of pollution in Ganga is a matter of concern”.
The tribunal not only flagged key environmental issues of the country but brought a new dynamic functioning style for sensitising government machinery to act fast and intensify its surveillance and vigilance mechanism.
The NGT dispensed the process of referring complaints and petitions filed before it for seeking para-wise comments and adjourning matters on many dates due to not receiving complete response of notices.
The tribunal launched online filing of complaints and petitions by submitting a fee of ₹1,000 without engaging an advocate. It also entertained mails and letters received by it and admitted as these petitions.
The year gone by also saw imposition of heavy fines and environment compensations on public authorities for not discharging their “statutory” obligations and corporate houses for damaging the environment and ecology.
Playing a pivotal role in expeditious disposal of cases, the NGT constituted committees of central and state representatives with experts from IITs and other eminent institutions. In selected matters, it preferred appointment of retired judges of the Supreme Court and high courts for taking stock of situation and establishing inter-departmental coordination in states.
In an unprecedented move, the NGT summoned chief secretaries of states and UTs seeking compliance status on key issues like solid and plastic waste, polluted river stretches, sand mining and air pollution in cities.
On preventing damages to rivers and other water bodies, it stipulated timelines to be adhered by the Centre and state governments to set up Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) and utilising treated sewage for non-potable uses to conserve fresh water and ground water resources.
To regulate use of RO purifiers, it directed the government to prohibit them where total dissolved solids in water are below 500 mg per litre and sensitise public about ill effects of demineralised water.
The NGT dealt with matters of air pollution in 122 cities where its level has been exceeding norms. It got action plans approved by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for such cities to be implemented by state agencies.
It directed setting up of mechanisms to inform public on ‘severe’ condition days of air pollution and issue ‘advisories’ for taking precautionary measures.
The panel made its presence felt when it appointed a committee headed by a former Delhi High Court judge to deal with nearly 52,000 industrial units which are operating illegally in Delhi’s residential areas.
It directed the Railways to identify and develop at least 36 stations as “eco-smart stations” and asked it to maintain cleanliness on platforms and ensure liability of officers for non compliance.
Expressing dissatisfaction over cleaning of Yamuna, it directed Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments to submit a performance guarantee of ₹10 crore each.
The NGT also slapped a ₹100 crore fine on the Tamil Nadu government over inordinate delay in removal of encroachments along and prevention of pollution in Adyar and Cooum rivers in Chennai.
Acting tough on pollution caused by cars, it slapped a ₹500 crore fine on German auto major Volkswagen for damaging the environment through “cheat device” in its diesel cars in India.
The NGT directed Uttarakhand and UP pollution control boards to publicise Ganga’s water quality at strategic locations every month and indicate if it is fit for bathing and drinking. It asked Uttarakhand to ensure no illegal camping takes place on the banks of Ganga and its tributaries.
On rising forest fire incidents, it directed the environment and forests ministry to submit data related to such occurrences in the last five years and identification of hotspots.
The tribunal’s presence was felt even in far off areas like Lakshadweep where it asked the administration to ensure supply of potable water to villages and implement the action plan suggested by the Central Ground Water Board in this regard.
It asked Punjab, Haryana and UP how they intend to tackle the problem of crop residue burning, a major contributor to air pollution in Delhi, and directed constitution of special cells in the office of chief secretary of Delhi and neighbouring states to monitor air pollution.
On solid waste management, it asked the Delhi government and civic bodies to deposit ₹250 crore in an escrow account to facilitate waste removal from landfill sites.
Expressing dissatisfaction over action taken by the Delhi government against unauthorised industrial activities, the NGT asked it to deposit ₹25 crore with the CPCB for failure to curb pollution.
Recently, a 16-year-old boy approached the NGT to stop e-commerce giants Amazon and Flipkart from excessive plastic use in packaging, prompting it to direct the CPCB to submit a report.
It also ordered formulation of environmental management plans for ecologically sensitive areas like Kullu-Manali, Mc Leodganj, Mahabaleshwar, Vaishno Devi and Rohtang Pass.The NGT dealt with rejuvenation of 351 polluted river stretches.
Restitution of environment in Sonebhadra and Singrauli areas which were affected by thermal power plants and mining, and of degraded areas in Meghalaya affected by rat hole mining were issues the NGT dealt with in 2019.