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Supreme Court allows 3 Haryana formaldehyde units to continue operations

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In a huge relief to some 8,000 workers, the Supreme Court has recently allowed the operation of three formaldehyde manufacturing units, two in Yamuna Nagar, and another in Rohtak, Haryana.

The units had approached the Apex Court aggrieved by the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) holding that establishments such as the manufacturing units which did not have prior Environmental Clearance (EC) could not be allowed to operate.

“The question in this case is, whether a unit contributing to the economy of the country and providing livelihood to hundreds of people, which has been set up pursuant to requisite approvals from the concerned statutory authorities, and has applied for ex post facto EC (Environmental Clearance), should be closed down for the technical irregularity of want of prior environmental clearance, pending the issuance of EC, even though it may not cause pollution and/or may be found to comply with the required norms,” reads the judgement by the Division Bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and J.K. Maheshwari.

The bench permitted the operation taking into account the livelihood of 8,000 workers employed by the manufacturing units.“The Court cannot be oblivious to the economy or the need to protect the livelihood of hundreds of employees and others employed in the project and others dependent on the project, if such projects comply with environmental norms,” read the judgement.

The units had acquired Consent to Establish (CTE) and Consent to Operate (CTO) from the Haryana State Pollution Control Bureau (HSPCB). The units claimed that they were under the misconception that Environmental Clearance was not required for units which manufactured formaldehyde, while also claiming that at the time even HSPCB was not sure of whether EC was required for such units.

On November 26, 2020, NGO Dastak filed an application before the NGT praying that the order passed by the State of Haryana whereby manufacturing units such as the appellants were granted 6 months’ time to acquire EC, be quashed and units which were operating without EC be closed. The NGT passed the impugned judgement holding that establishments such as the manufacturing units of the appellants, which did not have prior Environmental Clearance (EC) could not be allowed to operate. 

The Appellants had already applied for EC. The Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has, after scrutinizing the application of the Appellants and finding them eligible for grant of EC, recommended their cases for grant of Terms of Reference (ToR). ToR was granted to the Appellants and a public hearing had also been conducted. Only the last procedural step of issuance of EC was left, before pursuant to the impugned order passed by the NGT, the ToR granted was revoked.

The Apex Court has directed the Centre to inform the appellants if anything further is required to be done by them and subsequently pass the final decision n the application of the appellants for EC within three weeks thereafter. 

18773-2021-38-1502-34384-Judgement-25-Mar-2022

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