Environment watchdog National Green Tribunal (NGT) has pulled up Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and Gujarat State Pollution Control Board (GPCB) for failing to perform their respective duties effectively, resulting in high levels of air and water pollution at Navlakhi Port located on southwest end of the Gulf of Kutch and about 50 km from Morbi in Rajkot district.
While the GMB has been criticised for not providing adequate infrastructure to curb air and water pollution at the port, the GPCB got a wrap on the knuckles for poor monitoring and not taking punitive action against GMB under air and water pollution laws despite knowing about the high pollution levels. GPCB has also been asked by NGT to frame enforcement policy for effective implementation of environment laws with in 12 weeks.
GMB has been directed to ‘strictly’ comply with recommendations of the Civil Engineering Department of MS University which was called upon by the NGT to prepare action plan for improvement in the coal handling system at Navlakhi Port. The Tribunal also directed GPCB to assess damages caused due to improper/illegal handling of the coal at the Navlakhi Port and recover it from GMB for payment to the concerned victims by forfeiture of the security furnished to it as per the principle of ‘Polluters pay’.
The strictures were passed recently by the Green Tribunal while hearing application file by one Rajendrasinh Kashtrya of Rajula in Amreli district. Kashtrya had alleged in his application that coal handling at the port was poor and causing air pollution leading to health hazard like breathlessness and eye soar amongst the workers, residents of nearby area and passersby. He also claimed that agriculture fields were being adversely affected due to emission of the coal dust which is spreading due to the winds. He was also aggrieved that though GPCB observed non-compliances of the environmental norms at the port, it did not take stringent action against the port authorities.
“Considering the documents placed on record and the report of the site inspection conducted by the GPCB, it goes without saying that the (Gujarat) Maritime Board failed to take appropriate measures to avoid air and water pollution at Navlakhi Port,” the NGT bench of Justice V R Kingaonkar and Ajay A Deshpande observed in their recent order.
There is no escape from conclusion that in spite of various directions from time to time, the coal handling system of GMB and GPCB was not updated and improved in order to avoid air and water pollution, they added.
The Navlakhi Port imports coal from foreign countries on large scale and has installed coal handling capacity of 8.05 million tons per annum (MTPA). Being a lighterage port, big vessels cannot enter the port for the purpose of unloading the coal. So, big vessels are anchored away from where the coal is transported through small vessels to Navlakhi Port where it is unloaded and stacked in huge heaps. Thereafter, it is loaded in trucks for supply to various consumers.
The port was closed for over a month for flaunting green norms in May 2013. The GPCB regulator had found high levels of air and water pollution at Navlakhi port, but despite several notices, when the port authorities did not take corrective measures, the port was shutdown and its electricity supply was suspended for some time last year.
While pointing out deficiencies in the coal handling at Navlakhi Port, GPCB had told the Tribunal that despite show cause notice to GMB on high level of air and water pollution in January and April this year GMB failed to improve the port activities, particularly proper coal handling in the port area.
The NGT has directed GMB to adopt more modern and cleaner technology for handling of coal through hermetically sealed conveyance system and also fully mechanised coal lifting and unloading system to control the fugitive dust emission at the source itself.
Asking GPCB to form new enforcement policy the Tribunal said, “The enforcement strategy of GPCB seems to be restricted to be rounded and cyclic in approach involving inspection, monitoring, directions and forfeiture of Bank guarantee which is invoked in the event of each observed non-compliance. We could not find any specific efforts of GPCB, as envisaged under Section 22/2 and 23/3 of Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981 for taking remedial measures or recovering cost of such remedial measures.”