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NGT Imposes 17.31 Cr Fine On IOCL’s Panipat Refinery, Money To Be Used For Environmental Restoration

IOCL Panipat Refinery

The principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) comprising of Chairperson Justice AK Goel, Justice SP Wangdi, Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Dr Nagin Nanda imposed a fine of 17.31 crores on Indian Oil Corporation Limited’s (IOCL) refinery in Panipat. The fine was imposed for violation of Environmental Norms with respect to water and air pollution.  

The Panipat Refinery will have to deposit the fine amount in one month’s time to the Central Pollution Control Board.

Timeline of Events:

2018: Letter sent to NGT by sarpanch

The matter of the violation of environmental norms was first brought to the NGT’s notice after Satpal Singh, the Sarpanch of the Gram Panchayat of Singhpura Sithna wrote a letter to the NGT. In the letter, he alleged that IOCL’s Panipat Refinery was polluting the air and water around the villages of Bholi, Dadlana, Sithana and Panipat. The complaint also alleged that the Panipat Refinery was causing large scale diseases in the villages and was affecting the inhabitants of the area.

15th November 2018: An inspection team is formed

A joint team comprising Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB) and Deputy Commissioner of Panipat was required to furnish a report after visiting the villages of Sutana, Bholi and Dadlana

15th January 2019: The team’s findings

The joint team submitted its report to the NGT in which enormous pollution was acknowledged. Conclusions and recommendations were also submitted.

1st March 2019: NGT hearing on the report

The NGT in a hearing observed that the State Pollution Control Board required not only to prohibit the polluting activities but also to recover exemplary compensation as well as take further punitive action. It directed the committee to also access the damage done to public health and the environment. The compensation was expected to be adequate to meet the cost of restoration of the environment and public health.

9th May 2019:  HSPCB damage estimation report

HSPCB submitted its report, which was prepared by CPCB and HSPCB. In a report dated May 9, 2019, the joint committee recommended a tentative cost of Rs. 17.31 crores on IOCL’s Panipat Refinery. The fine would be utilised for plantation of forest trees and for the restoration of groundwater quality.

What Were The Violations Found By The Joint Committee?

After collecting samples from the Effluent Treatment Plant at  IOCL’s Panipat refinery, the committee noted that it was non-compliant with the environment norms:

Findings noted were as follows:

  1. Ambient air quality was exceeding the norms. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) were causing irritation to eyes and an odour was also observed in the air by the joint committee during the inspection.
  2. Untreated effluent was found to be discharged in the Green Belt Areas. Green Belts are lands consisting of largely undeveloped, wild, or agricultural land surrounding or neighbouring urban areas.
  3. The unit was not complying with the conditions of recycling and reusing treated water.
  4. Effluent Treatment Plant was not being operated efficiently and was not adequate. Untreated effluents were being stored in open storage lagoon without VOC recovery system.
  5. The groundwater samples were also exceeding the normal pollution level.

IOCL’s response

Live Law reported that Aman Lekhi appeared on behalf of the IOCL and submitted a reply affidavit to the January 15th report. It argued that the said refinery has consent to establish and permission to discharge effluents into the drain.

Later, it was further submitted that the report of the joint committee dated May 9 recommending costs to be imposed is unwarranted as the impact of other industries in the vicinity has not been considered and the joint committee did not give notice to the respondent.

The Tribunal however observed, “A public sector unit is expected to be a model for compliance of environmental norms. For pollution caused, liability is unavoidable. We find that there is adequate material on record to hold that there is a violation of environmental norms by Respondent No.1( the Panipat refinery). The inspection was carried out by the credible experts of the regulatory authorities, namely, the CPCB, the HSPCB under the direction of this Tribunal.”

Also Read: Volkswagen Fined Rs 100 Cr For Causing Air Pollution In Delhi; NGT Asks To Deposit Penalty

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