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National Green Tribunal: Polluters bound to pay environmental compensation

The National Green Tribunal while observing that if environmental laws are violated by any person or authority, by application of polluters pay it is bound to pay environmental compensation for the damage and the person who suffers on account of such violation is also entitled to get compensation , imposed an environmental compensation of Rs. 65,75,000 on the Municipal Board, Pokaran for discharging untreated sewage.

The bench of Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Dr. Afroz Ahmad allowed an application filed by six applicants alleging that they are owners of agricultural land situated at Tehsil Pokaran, District Jaisalmer, State of Rajasthan. It is pleaded that Municipal Council is a local body responsible for maintaining drainage, cleanliness, handling and management of solid waste and discharge of sewage after its treatment following the standards prescribed under the provisions of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (Water Act, 1974) and to comply the provisions of Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 (Air Act, 1981),Environment Protection Act, 1986 (EP Act, 1986) and Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 (SWM Rules, 2016).However, it has failed to observe its statutory duties and discharging untreated sewage on the open land of applicants damaging the same,rendering land and soil unfit for agricultural use.

Original Application was considered by Tribunal on 20.10.2022 and after noticing the grievance of applicants,Tribunal constituted a Joint Committee with the direction to visit the site and submit a factual report. Joint Committee comprising Collector, Jaisalmer, SPCBand Municipal Council, Pokaran has submitted Joint Inspection report through Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board (RSPCB)  vide letter dated 18.11.2022. After the report was submitted,some replies have been filed by the respondents.

The report and replies were considered by Tribunal on 06.04.2023. It was found that admittedly there was discharge of untreated sewage water in the open land belong to the applicants affecting it adversely and damaging crops causing financial loss to the applicants. Besides there were many violations of environmental laws as also WaterAct, 1974. 

Tribunal, therefore, directed RSPCB to calculate environmental compensation against violators on the principle of “Polluter Pays” and further directed to calculate environmental compensation and damage caused to the applicants and submit a report before the next date of hearing.

On behalf of respondents  a reply dated 30.05.2023 has been filed stating that there is a proposal of establishment of 20 KLD capacity FSTP at the cost of Rs. 9.37 Crores. The accumulation of untreated waste water at the applicants land is not disputed and it is said that it had accumulated after flowing through river Tolaberi.  

A separate compliance report has been filed by RSPCB stating that Regional Officer has proposed environment compensation of Rs. 65,75,000/- upon Municipal Board, Pokaran for discharge of untreated waste/sewage in river Tolaberi which ultimately gets accumulated on the applicants land damaging agricultural land and soil of the applicants and also surface as well as ground water.   

No reply by respondent  disputing the fact that it is not treating the domestic and municipal sewerin the area of Pokaran and actually discharging untreated sewage in river Tolaberi which is ultimately reaching and accumulating to open land including the agricultural land of the applicants damaging the same ecologically and causing even otherwise pollution has been filed. It is also causing health hazards to the people at large and particularly, the inhabitants in the area.  

The Counsel appearing for Municipal Board, Pokarancould not give any justification as to why environmental compensation proposed by Regional Officer, RSPCB vide letter dated 15.05.2023  may not required to be paid by it for the offence it is committing by discharging untreated sewage and polluting not only the surface water of river Tolaberi but also due to over flow of the sewage water and accumulation on the agricultural land of applicants, the said land soil and ground water are being damaged .

“The law is well settled that no discharge of untreated sewage is permissible in any stream unless requisite treatment is made and the water quality is improved as per the prescribed standards under the provision of Water Act, 1974 and if any person commits, breach, besides acting under Water Act, 1974, it is also liable to pay environmental compensation on the principle of „Polluter Pays‟ , the Bench said.

“In the facts and circumstance of the matter and in view of the discussions made above, we allow this Original Application and direct respondent 5 to pay environmental compensation of Rs. 65,75,000/- as proposed by Regional Officer, Jaisalmer vide letter dated 15.05.2023 and deposit the same with RSPCB, within two months. Respondent 5 is also restrained from discharging any untreated sewer(municipal and domestic), as the case may be, in river Tolaberi or on any open area of private parties. discharge of treated sewage shall be made only after treatment of the sewage water meeting the standards prescribed under the provision of Water Act, 1974”, the Court directed.

Further while holding that Applicant‟s land is more than 9 hectares which is a big chunk of land and which is the basic source of livelihood for the applicants , the Bench  therefore directed  that they shall be entitled to compensation of Rs. 20 lakhs which shall be paid by RSPCB from the amount of environmental compensation deposited by respondent 5 (Municipal Board), as directed above.

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