The National Green Tribunal has restrained FMCG major Hindustan Unilever from upscaling mercury remediation process at its Kodaikanal plant in Tamil Nadu and asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to obtain an expert opinion in the matter.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel was informed that experts in this field were available with IIT Delhi and IIT Madras in the chemical engineering department who deal with the subject of mercury contamination and bio-magnification.
"Accordingly, with a view to proceed further in the matter, we consider it appropriate to direct the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to obtain an expert opinion in the matter from any institute having expertise in mercury contamination. The CPCB may also examine the trial results undertaken by NEERI in the present case...
"The experts will be at liberty to visit the site, if it is so considered necessary. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) may not upscale the remediation process till the next date," the bench said.
The green panel said the parties would also be at liberty to furnish relevant documents to CPCB so that it could secure an opinion in the matter within six weeks.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Kodaikanal resident Navroz Mody against the remediation levels that have been set at 20-25 mg per kg on the ground that it was not scientifically tenable and that the right standard was 6.6 mg per kg.
The NGT said the issue was raised before the Madras High Court, which allowed Mody to approach the Ministry of Environment and Forests which has justified the standard that was being followed at the Kodaikanal site.
"According to the applicant, the stand does not have any sound technical basis. The same cannot be mechanically accepted without expert opinion," the bench said.
The matter was posted for next hearing on October 4.
The mercury contamination in Kodaikanal originated at a thermometer factory owned by Hindustan Unilever. Unilever had acquired the thermometer factory from cosmetics maker Pond's India Ltd. The radiation incident had led to the closure of the factory in 2001.
According to the applicant, Hindustan Unilever Ltd imported 136.5 tonnes of mercury in its factory at Kodaikanal to manufacture thermometers. Several tonnes of broken thermometers and mercury waste were found by the residents after which the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ordered closure of the unit on March 23, 2001.
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