Environment watchdog National Green Tribunal on Wednesday directed the closure of 313 industrial units across India, including 23 in Gujarat, for violating key environment laws for over two decades.
The NGT verdict follows a 13-year-old pitched battle by leading Gujarat-based environmentalist Rohit Prajapati of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti and Ziya Pathan of the People's Union Civil Liberties in the Gujarat High Court which transferred the case to the NGT that took it on a national compass. IANS has all the copies of the relevant orders.
The NGT struck down the environment clearance (EC) procedure adopted during 1998 to 2002 by the union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) for granting what was called "ex-post-facto environmental clearance" to over 300 defaulting chemical units, many of operated out of Gujarat.
Ex-post-facto environmental clearances means ECs to industries that had started after production in these units. The NGT called such clearances "illegal".
The tribunal asserted that "ex-post-facto" was "void ab-initio and ought to be struck down", and added: "We have no hesitation in holding that 'ex-post facto' process of obtaining ECs was just a farce, stage managed, wrong and impermissible under the law and suffered from illegality, which is incurable in any manner."
The NGT bench of Justice V.R. Kingaonkar and Ajay A. Deshpande, which sits in its Western Zone Branch in Pune stated in its order of January 8 that the ministry circular dated May 14, 2002, "does not show by which provisions, the power is provided in the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, to allow 'ex-post facto' EC."
Terming the circular "illegal, void and inoperative", the NGT asked the ministry to "immediately clarify legal position to the concern authorities within one month", asking it not to take "any further action on basis of aforementioned circular".
The NGT order asked the units, which had opposed Prapapati's PIL, to close down industrial activities, and take instead "consent to operate" immediately, within four weeks, in as much "as they are being operated without any legal permission/consent" and on the basis of the "concept of 'ex-post facto' sanction or 'ex-post facto' hearing".
The NTG order wanted each unit to pay Rs.10 lakh each for "causing environmental degradation", which, it says, should be "utilised for restoration of environment and if any reminder available for plantation purpose in and around the Ankleshwar industrial area".
In case of failure to deposit the amount before the Bharuch district collector, which on his part, should take steps to "confiscate the industries and goods, stock and barrel and may sale the same for recovery of amount, as if it is dues under the Gujarat Land Revenue Code".