The National Green Tribunal has held that victims of a Gujarat chemical factory blast are entitled to compensation for which the primary liability is of the operator of the godown and the state of Gujarat is vicariously liable due to the failure of its authorities in performing their responsibility of checking hazardous activities being conducted without requisite safeguards.
The NGT has directed that the heirs of deceased as well as the injured may be given compensation as already determined as an interim measure without prejudice and needs to take remedial measures to ensure that such incidents do not occur and hold accountable persons responsible for failure of the oversight.
The NGT had earlier directed to pay interim compensation of Rs 15 lakh for the deceased and Rs 5 lakh for the injured. In the chemical factory blast, 13 people were killed and 9 injured. The NGT had taken a suo motu cognizance of an Indian Express report dated November 4, 2020.
The major blast had occurred in an illegal chemical factory last year, running on the agricultural land in the name of Sahil Enterprises Chemical Boiler Factory, at Pirana-Riplaj Road, Ahmedabad.
A bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Justices Sheo Kumar Singh (Judicial Member) and Dr. Nagin Nanda (Expert Member) directed the state of Gujarat to take remedial measures to ensure that such incidents do not occur and hold accountable persons responsible for failure of the oversight.
The Tribunal has further directed a Joint Committee of Director, Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), Gujarat and state PCB in coordination with respective Municipal Corporations and District Magistrates to conduct survey of the entire state to ascertain if any other such activities are going on, and if so to take remedial action by way of closing such illegal activities.
The Court said, “The State PCB will be the nodal agency for coordination and compliance. The said committee may give its report to the Chief Secretary, Gujarat within three months for further remedial action.” The court has also said in its order that state is not liable to pay compensation to the owner of the factory who also died, as he himself was responsible for his illegal hazardous actions. “However, the State is not debarred from making any ex gratia payment. For death of all other persons and injured, the State will be liable to pay compensation, without prejudice to its right to recover the same from the violators of law or erring officers, following due process of law. The responsibility for compliance will be of the Chief Secretary, Gujarat, through the District Magistrate, Ahmedabad,” it added.
The matter was considered on November 11, 2020 after serving advance notice to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the Gujarat State Pollution Control Board, District Magistrate, Ahmedabad, Director of Industrial Safety, Ahmedabad and Sahil Enterprises Chemical Boiler Factory. The court had constituted a six-member committee for the investigation and submission of the final report.
Accordingly, the Joint Committee had filed its report on January 28, 2021, which shown that there was a violation of revenue law in construction on agricultural land and also of Municipal law. Revenue Department, District Administration, Municipal Corporation, Industries Department as well as Environment Departments of Gujarat are certainly failure in preventing the incident by not implementing the necessary statutory precautions, stated in the report.
The Tribunal has found that all accidents in chemical factories are result of non-compliance of laid down safety norms under the 1989 Rules and the Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness and Response) Rules, 1996 [1996 Rules], thus there is need for the establishment of handling hazardous chemicals to strictly follow the laid down norms, which need to be overseen by the statutory regulators, it noted.