NEW DELHI, Sept 8 – In a landmark verdict, the National Greens Tribunal, slamming the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and the Assam Government, has penalised both asking them to deposit Rs 1 lakh each for conservation and restoration of flora and fauna at Kaziranga National Park (KNP), besides ordering closure of 33 brick kilns and 11 stone crushers located within the No Development Zone (NDZ) of KNP.
Delivering the order, acting chairperson Justice A.S. Naidu and Expert Member Dr. G.K. Pandey stated in their order that the MoEF and the State Government have totally failed in their duties with respect to implementation of the provisions of the 1996 notification and due to the callous and indifferent attitude exhibited by the authorities, a number of polluting industries and units were established in and around the NDZ of Kaziranga, posing immense threat to the biodiversity, eco-sensitive zone, ecology as well as environment.
Concluding that it was a clear case of infringement of law, the Greens Tribunal directed the MoEF and the Government of Assam to deposit the penalty amount with the Director, Kaziranga National Park, for conservation and restoration of flora and fauna as well as biodiversity, eco-sensitive zone, ecology and environment of the vicinity of KNP in general and within the No Development Zone in particular.
“The amount shall be utilised exclusively by the Director, Kaziranga National Park, for conservation, protection and restoration, as well as for afforestation of suitable trees of the local species in and around the No Development Zone.”
The MoEF and the State Government have been directed to prepare a Comprehensive Action Plan and Monitoring Mechanism for implementation of the conditions stipulated in the 1996 notification, the judgement passed on a complaint filed by RTI activists Rohit Choudhury, said.
Relying on a report by the Central Pollution Control Board, the Tribunal ordered the closure of the 33 brick kilns. At least 34 brick kilns are operating within the NDZ, out of which only one unit was set up before 1996. Brick kilns, being the main pollution causing units, are hazardous to the environment. CPCB had recommended that 33 brick kilns should be closed down immediately.
As for the lone brick kiln that was allowed to operate, it was directed that steps should be taken to either relocate it outside the demarcated zone or steps should also be taken to insist stricter air pollution control devices. The unit should be inspected by the SPCB, Assam, regularly and CPCB occasionally, so as to ensure that the pollution level of the unit is within control. No extension shall be granted to the said unit after expiry of its lease or permission at its present location, the 40-page order said.
The 11 stone crushers, which according to the CPCB report, are located within the NDZ, are non-functional at present. Since those stone crushers have been allowed to be established within the NDZ in contravention of the 1996 notification, the State Government is directed to take immediate steps to remove all those illegal stone crushers except one M/s Assam Stone Crusher, from the NDZ area forthwith, it was ordered.
It appears that Assam Stone Crusher was installed prior to the notification. But then, operation of the said 33 stone crusher units would cause significant air pollution apart from noise pollution, and would lead to adverse impact on the ecosystem. The Government of Assam is, therefore, directed to take steps to relocate the unit outside the NDZ.
The State Government shall take steps not to allow operation of the stone crusher units existing in the vicinity of the NDZ till necessary pollution control equipments and other measures are installed to eradicate the pollution, to the satisfaction of Assam Pollution Control Board and Central Pollution Control Board, the Tribunal said.
The CPCB report further reveals that 11miscellaneous industries are existing within the NDZ. Out of them four are petrol pumps, one is a saw mill, another oil tanker making unit, a restaurant, which is under construction, a concrete making unit, besides two mustered oil mills and one flour mill.
Out of the eleven industries, barring four petrol pumps and the restaurant, all other units generate lots of pollution, therefore, they should not be allowed to operate in their present locations and action should be taken to shift them immediately out of the NDZ.
The CPCB report further reveals that there are 25 tea factories, out of which 22 are located within the NDZ and three are within 500 meters of the outer periphery of NDZ. It appears the CPCB could visit only 13 tea leaf processing factories due to flood situation in Assam.
The report reveals that only one unit has made arrangements to treat its effluents. The rest 22 tea processing units located within the NDZ have installed boilers for which, coal, oil, wood is the main feed stock. They have also not installed any pollution control devices.
The SPCB and other authorities are directed to ensure that no tea processing units having boiler using fossil fuel operates within the NDZ and take immediate steps to stop their operation.
The three tea leaf processing units located within 500 m of the outer periphery of the NDZ should be allowed to operate only if necessary pollution control measures, as may be stipulated by SPCB, Assam, are adhered to by those units. Further, all the tea processing units must provide acoustical enclosures in their electrical generators for providing alternative electricity.