The National Green Tribunal directed the District Magistrate, Bastar may disburse further amount of Rs. 16 lakhs to the heirs of each of the deceased who died in the Bastar Limestone collapse in 2022.
The Bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), Justice Sudhir Agarwal, Dr.A. Senthil Vel disposed of a Suo Moto proceeding in the light of a media report of death of seven persons on account of limestone mine collapse in Village Maalgaon, District Bastar, Chhattisgarh.
Vide order dated 19.12.2022, the Tribunal took up the matter for consideration after advance notice and constituted a fact-finding Committee comprising Principal Secretary (Environment), Chhattisgarh (as Chairman) and CPCB, CECB, District Magistrate and SSP, Bastar (as Members) to ascertain cause of incident and persons responsible for the same, particulars of the victims and relief to them and preventive measures for future. Accordingly, the joint Committee has filed its report on 05.04.2023 identifying the victims and cause of death. As per the report , District administration has dispersed the compensation of Rs. 4.0 Lakhs to the family members of all the deceased.
Heirs of six deceased have been paid compensation of Rs. 4 lakhs each and the injured have been given medical treatment without any compensation , the Tribunal noted.
Further it is cleared to the NGT from the report that death of six persons has taken place due to collapse of soil bed in the course of excavation of soil. The report mentions that the accident site area has been fenced with a sign board of a restricted area. The excavation activities are prohibited in the area.
Though the Committee has failed to identify the violator, there is no dispute that death is in the course of illegal excavation. There is a failure on the part of State machinery in preventing such hazardous activities and also identifying the persons undertaking such activities. In such a situation, there is no reason to deprive the heirs of the deceased from just compensation to be paid by the State with liberty to recover the same from violators. While primary liability for such deaths is of the persons undertaking illegal excavation activities, the State cannot avoid its responsibility for safety of human lives for failure of its vigilance and regulatory mechanism, the Bench observed.
Further the NGT held , that acknowledging this responsibility, the State has given some amount of compensation i.e. Rs. 4 lakhs in respect of each death which cannot by any standard be considered to be adequate. Even on adhoc basis and in absence of particulars of loss of earning, compensation in such cases has to be at least Rs. 20 lakhs for each death. This is the view taken by this Tribunal in a number of cases, including vide order dated 28.03.2023 in OA No. 204/2023, In re: News item published in Newspaper The Hindu dated 07.03.2023 titled “Three children die during illegal mining in West Bengal”.
Accordingly, the NGT directed the District Magistrate, Bastar may disburse further amounts of Rs. 16 lakhs to the heirs of each of the deceased and Rs. 2 lakhs each to the injured within one month from today. It will be open to the District Magistrate to identify the violators and proceed against them in accordance with law, including for recovery of compensation. The State may review its vigilance and regulatory regime to prevent such incidents in future , the Bench further directed.