New Delhi, July 26: The National Green Tribunal has penalised Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), asking it to deposit Rs 25 crore, for “non-compliance” with the environmental norms at its Panipat refinery.

“The amount to be deposited by IOCL that can be spent on restoration of environment and public health by making a restoration plan by the Central Pollution Control Board, Haryana Pollution Control Board and the District Magistrate, Panipat,” the NGT said while holding the PSU guilty, The Indian Express reported.

The NGT passed these directions while hearing the application filed by Satpal Singh, Sarpanch, Gram panchayat, Singhpura Sithna village, Panipat versus Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Panipat Refinery. The Tribunal has been monitoring the case for the last two years “on the issue of continued violation of environmental norms by the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL), Panipat Refinery”.

A July 24 order by NGT panel, headed by its chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and comprising Justice SP Wangdi as Judicial Member and Justice Dr Nagin Nanda as Expert Member, read: “Such plan may be prepared within three months and same may be duly executed. 

The deposit of the amount by the IOCL may be made within one month from today with the CPCB. Issue of final liability for compensation will be decided on next date in the light of progress in performance by IOCL. The action plan may cover restoration activities to be undertaken outside the company’s premises for restitution of environment including public safety, health and hygiene. It will be open to the committee to get action plan executed through company itself or otherwise and ensure regular monitoring the process of implementation.”

Violation of environmental norms was first established from a November 2018 report by a joint team comprising Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) and Deputy Commissioner, Panipat, which found that the samples from the Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) of the unit were found to be noncompliant, ambient air quality was exceeding the norms, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were resulting in irritation to eyes and odour which was observed by the joint team during inspection. 

Untreated effluent was found to be discharged in the green belt areas. Unit was not complying with the conditions of recycling and reusing treated water. Untreated effluents were being stored in open storage lagoon without VOC recovery system. The ground water samples were also found to be not complying with the norms. Last year too, the NGT had slapped a penalty on IOCL.

However, in the recent order dated July 24, NGT lambasted IOCL for “lack of sensitiveness to the fundamental rights of the inhabitants of clean environment” and said, “Learned counsel for the CPCB and the State PCB dispute the self serving claim of compliance by the IOCL contrary to the report of the joint committee based on site inspection, it is further submitted that the timelines were going up to March, 2022 to remedy storm water contamination and other long timelines even after two years of directions and monitoring by this Tribunal. 

It is submitted that the stand of the IOCL shows lack of sensitiveness to the fundamental rights of the inhabitants to clean environment. The IOCL is either denying its responsibility or delaying performance of its obligation. In these circumstances, IOCL be required to deposit the compensation assessed for damage already caused to the environment and public health so that remedial steps can be taken. We find merit in the stand of the CPCB and the State PCB in view of independent joint committee report showing continued discharge of pollution by the IOCL in water bodies”.

Further lashing out at IOCL, the NGT panel ruled, “The IOCL has failed to take effective and adequate steps even during long interval available after the last hearing though such action was expected. It was on that expectation that requirement of paying assessed compensation was deferred. A PSU has to be model of compliance with the environmental norms which unfortunately is found lacking in the present case”.

Giving directions for a day-to-day monitoring of the compliance, NGT panel added, “Accordingly, we direct the IOCL to take initiative on day to day basis and comply with all the observations of the joint committee positively within six months. This will not debar the State PCB from initiating prosecution for violation of provision of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 against the company and its senior officers who failed to prevent commission of crime, as per statutory mandate”.

In the order, the NGT has asked the Joint Committee to give its “independent report after site inspection as to status of compliance and execution of action plan as on 31.12.2020 by e-mail”.

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