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NGT dismisses petition seeking closure of industry involved in active carbon manufacturing business

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) dismissed a Petition  seeking a direction for the closure of the 3rd Respondent industry which is involved in the business of activated carbon manufacturing and to pay adequate compensation to the applicant for the damage caused and losses suffered by the applicant.  

The applicant is a resident of the Vattamalai Village, Kangeyam Taluk and he is basically an agriculturist. The applicant constructed his house in the year 2010 facing the east direction and has planted coconut trees, Malabar neem wood, red sandalwood, sandalwood, teakwood, and other fruit bearing trees on the said lands.  The 3rd Respondent industry was constructed in the year 2009 on the land adjacent to the applicant. As the 3rd Respondent industry expanded its capacity, severe pollution was caused. It is stated that fine black soot like material emitted from the 3rd Respondent industry covers the applicant‟s land and also settles in the applicant‟s house, making it impossible to live in his house. 

It is alleged further that if the windows and doors are left open, the entire house gets covered with fine black dust causing breathing difficulties, eye irritation, coughing and other health issues.  It is also alleged that there are about 500 coconut trees in the applicant‟s land and these plants are impacted by emissions from the 3rd Respondent industry. It is stated that the leaves of the coconut trees on the land are covered by fine black soot emitted from the 3rd Respondent industry. The said carbon cover sticks to the leaves and prevents photosynthesis and does not allow the trees to grow and mature to their full size.

The further allegation is that the applicant is unable to raise any other crops though he tried to cultivate white sorghum, pearl millet, whole green gram, whole black gram, horse gram, etc. Ultimately, the applicant stopped his cultivation, as he is suffering only losses. The 3rd Respondent industry being a „Red‟ category, generates solid waste and liquid effluents from the process. The emissions alleged are not only through the stack but through the fugitive emissions. The fugitive emissions from processing, waste handling and raw material handling processes contribute to dust pollution. Though several complaints have been raised before the Respondent No.1 / Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), no action has been taken. 

It is further alleged that the 3rd Respondent industry was established in the year 2011 by obtaining permission to produce 360 Tonnes per month of activated charcoal and this capacity is now increased to 1640 Tonnes per month. The multifold increase in production was carried out on the same site without any buffer / greenbelt to act as a buffer between the industry and the applicant‟s land.

Therefore, the applicant has sought for the closure of the 3rd Respondent industry on the following grounds:- 

i. The emission from the 3rd Respondent industry which settles on the coconut trees has damaged them and prevented them from growing and is without yield.  

ii. The charcoal dust settles in the applicant‟s house making the same unliveable. 

iii. The emission and discharge from the 3rd Respondent industry contaminated the groundwater in the well and also the applicant‟s land. 

iv. The applicant‟s agricultural activities are crippled due to the above referred pollution and contamination. 

v. The 3rd Respondent causing pollution in violation of the consent order and has not developed the greenbelt as directed in the consent orders.  

The Tribunal had constituted a Joint Committee to ascertain :-

(i) Whether the industry is having all necessary permissions and clearances required under the environmental laws, 

(ii) Whether the pollution control mechanism provided by the industry are sufficient. If not, what are the mitigative measures to be taken by them, 

(iii) Whether any damage has been caused to the nearby agricultural land of the applicant and 

(iv) Assess the compensation payable for any damage caused and also conduct the Ambient Air Quality and soil and water analysis.   

The Joint Committee also made the following observations and recommendations during the inspection:- 

i. The age of coconut farms is about 7 – 8 years. 

ii. The coconut farm has water resources to cultivate coconut trees. 

iii. In Tiruppur District, generally, coconut trees yields 100 – 110 coconut instead, at present only 70 – 80 numbers of coconut yield. 

iv. At present, the growth of coconut trees and production yield becomes low. 

v. Based on the soil samples taken for analysis and report of soil testing, it is recommended to use soil fertilizer and nutrients for better coconut growth. 

vi. On observation, there was no deposition of carbon particles on the leaves and coconut trees. 

vii. The leaves of the trees are greenish. 

viii. During inspection, it was observed that there is no deposition of carbon particles on land or coconut trees.  

The report of the analysis concludes that the soil is suitable for coconut cultivation and a copy of the soil testing card and report of soil nutrient status were also furnished.  

The Southern Bench of Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana and  Dr. Satyagopal Korlapati said that this is a classic case where the rising urbanization, booming industrialization and associated anthropogenic activities which are the prime reasons that lead to air pollution and poor air quality. It is not only the rising trend in population growth but also the massive scale expansion in industries that has degraded the air quality. The difficulty in relocation of the industries from the urban centres and the behavioural patterns among the people in accepting the green solutions are some of the crucial impediments on the road to environmental protection. It is not only industrialization that has damaged the air quality but also the agricultural activities that produce emissions also have the potential to pollute the environment.

In this case, while the applicant is alleging that the 3 rd Respondent who is involved in the manufacturing of activated carbon is polluting the air, has not realized that his coconut farm also is contributing to the air pollution, as the applicant fires the coconut shells under the coconut trees at random places which is one of the reasons for smoke deposits on the coconut leaves. The 3rd Respondent also has alleged that the fire pits ignited by the applicant under the coconut trees are almost on a daily basis.  

It is the emission of fire ash/coal dust from the 3rd Respondent industry is the concern of the applicant. He has alleged that the 3rd Respondent has not left any buffer or greenbelt which results in stack emissions and fugitive emissions settling on the applicant‟s house, trees, solar panels, etc. The learned counsel for the applicant further submitted that the area where the 3rd Respondent industry is located is an agricultural area and there are not many roads or traffic. Further, there is no other industrial source of emissions. The applicant assailed the Joint Committee report as a statement of falsehood. The conclusion of the Joint Committee based on the statement of the Agriculture Department is vitiated. The observation of the Joint Committee that the black carbon deposit on the coconut leaves in the applicant‟s farm is due to the burning of coconut shells by the applicant is also denied and stated that the Joint Committee is biased. According to the applicant, the mere presence of pollution control equipment is insufficient.

The counsel for the 3rd Respondent submitted that the respondent unit is being monitored by an Online Monitoring System and the report has been generated every 15 Minutes and recorded online with the Pollution Control Board Care Air Centre. The Pollution Control Board has all the data available with them, as the same has been periodically updated with the system. The samples are captured every 10 Seconds from the stacks from the industrial unit and the same is analysed with an Online Monitoring System. The applicant was present with the Joint Committee during the inspection and is said to have not raised any objection.   

The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had contended that there is absolutely no material to support the allegations made in the application. The application is filed under Section 14 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 with the prayer to close the industry for causing pollution.  

The Joint Committee report revealed that they could observe the black deposit only on the bottom side of the leaves in some of the coconut trees, whereas on top of the leaves, there is no such deposit and they concluded that the black deposit is caused by a black fungus. The fact that the Joint Committee has found that there is no black deposit on the top of the coconut leaves as well as on other crops planted on the applicant‟s land indicates that the contention of the applicant that Respondent No.3 is responsible for the carbon particle deposit in his land cannot be substantiated.  

Moreover, the contention of the applicant that he is affected by the carbon particle deposit from the factory of the 3rd Respondent cannot established because the Joint Committee observed that the marks of the carbon deposit are not found on the farmhouse (which is painted in white colour inside and outside), walls, windows, electrical panels, etc. as well as above the asbestos sheet , the Bench held.

Further, the Bench noted from the Joint Committee report that 

(i) The soil sample analysis results of the heavy metal show that the values are well below the screening level as compared with the standard limit prescribed in the MoEF&CC “Guidance document for assessment and remediation of contaminated sites in India”. 

(ii) The analysis report of the groundwater samples reveals that no impact on groundwater due to the operation of the industries. The TDS in the groundwater was found to be more in that area naturally. 

(iii) The source emission monitoring was carried out in all 10 stacks provided in the unit. The monitoring was carried out by the TNPCB, DEL, Tiruppur during 09.05.2022 and 10.05.2022 and the parameters monitored are PM, SO2 and NOx. The analysis report shows that all parameters are within the prescribed limit.  

The Bench dismissed the application with the following directions;-

(i) The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board is directed to monitor the compliance of the norms by Respondent No.3 and also examine the need for increasing the height of the stacks in view of the substantial increase in the capacity of the plant. 

(ii) The Applicant and the 3rd Respondent are directed to plant tall trees, including Giganteus Bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) in their respective boundaries for the effective control of the fugitive emissions.

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