The “environmental Emergency” caused by one of the worst stretches of air pollution in Delhi and the northern region led National Green Tribunal to take the Centre and some states to task for inaction, as the year also it cracking the whip on airlines for dumping excreta in air and auto majors over sale of diesel vehicles.
Though several path-breaking orders were passed by the NGT in 2016, it also stoked controversy by allowing Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living (AOL) to hold a three-day cultural extravaganza on the dry bed of eco-fragile Yamuna.
Like previous years, hearings and orders of the green panel found mention in the global media and one such issue was the dumping of human excreta by aircraft over residential areas near the IGI airport here, which led it to order an inspection of the South Delhi house of a former senior armyman who had drawn its attention.
The menace of human waste being splattered on houses from airplanes while landing, also led the tribunal to slap a fine of Rs 50,000 on aircraft which empty toilet tanks in air.
The year not only saw slapping of hefty fines and environment compensation on public authorities for failing to discharge their “statutory” obligations, but big corporate houses too were penalised for damaging ecology.
The order imposing Rs 100 crore damage on a Panama-based shipping firm and two of its Qatar-based sister concerns for causing an oil spill in South Mumbai coast on August 4, 2011, was noteworthy.
While asking the three companies to pay environmental compensation to the Ministry of Shipping, the NGT also ordered Gujarat-based Adani Enterprises Ltd to pay Rs 5 crore as environmental compensation for dumping in the seabed 60,054 MT coal, being carried by ship M V RAK, and polluting the marine environment.
While NGT was training its guns on violators, on October 3, its website was hacked and it took almost two months to be restored.
The panel drew government’s attention to approve and implement action plans to tackle “environment Emergency” in Delhi and neighbouring areas and ordering deregistration of 10-year-old diesel vehicles.
It also barred the government from spending on cleaning of Ganga after it failed to provide data.
The green panel announced a fine of Rs 10,000 on those found throwing waste in public places while noting that municipal solid waste (MSW) was one of the most serious pollutants in the country, especially in Delhi.
However, cracking its whip against authorities to protect Delhiites from the worst air pollution in the last two decades, the green panel monitored on daily basis the steps being taken to check the long spell of persistent smog.
“The normal pollution in contra distinction to severe or environmental Emergency has to be examined and controlled by taking different and distinct measures, depending upon the situation and when air pollution takes such alarming proportions, immediate steps are needed to be taken as environmental emergency,” the bench said.
While the nation was struggling with alarming pollution levels, reports appeared in international media about German automobile major Volkswagen admitting cheating emission tests in the US and installing “defeat” devices in their vehicles.
This prompted the NGT to swing into action seeking an undertaking from the automobile company not to sell any diesel vehicle in India fitted with the “cheat” device.
However, one order of far-reaching consequence and controversy was the green nod given by the tribunal to the mega AOL event from March 11 to 13 that damaged the Yamuna’s rich bio-diversity, as an experts’ panel gave NGT a report in sealed cover quantifying the damage done by the NGO which termed it as “unscientific”, “biased” and “unsustainable”.
Cleaning of Ganga took the centrestage as the infuriated tribunal stopped the government from spending “a single penny” for Ganga rejuvenation work between Haridwar and Unnao after the authorities failed to inform it about exact quantum and quality if waste generated in the river.
The issues arising from the Ganga rejuvenation, which is one of the Prime Minister’s most ambitious plans, remained the top priority of NGT which said a whopping Rs 20,000 crore was being spent under ‘Namami Gange’ Programme by officials who did not even know about the river.
“Today, if you pick Ganga water in your hands at Haridwar, you will see that it is full of pollutants including faecal matter. When you put your hand in Ganga you can get anything.
Have you ever thought why is it so?
“We are talking of a river which is respected by people across the nation. This river is lifeline of millions of people in India and is also source of agriculture. People used to drink Gangajal and store it in their houses for years.
Faith in Ganga was not a mere myth, it was tested fact,” the NGT said.
Amid all these developments, appointments in state pollution control boards also came under the scrutiny of the tribunal which asked states and Union Territories to fill the vacancies with people with requisite qualification who should have “special knowledge, practical experience or qualification in environment protection studies”.
Public bodies frequently faced flak as the NGT repeatedly said that ill-planning and unscientific approach by the authorities had to led to the chaotic condition of the Ganga.
The green panel, which passed a series of orders affecting every part of the country, from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala and Rajasthan to Meghalaya, continued to hog limelight on a variety of environmental issues as it cracked whip on those found guilty of damaging the environment.
As Delhi’s air quality slipped to ‘hazardous’ levels, the tribunal asked northern states to check stubble burning and consider banning 10-year-old diesel vehicles from plying on the roads and switch to CNG to improve ambient air quality in their states.
Favouring deregistration of 15-year-old diesel vehicles in the national capital in a phased manner, the NGT held that no objection certificates (NoCs) would be given to vehicles which are older than that to ply outside Delhi-NCR.
While allowing the Okhla waste-to-energy plants to run for the time being, it banned the use of disposable plastic in Delhi and NCR with effect from January 1, 2017 and passed a slew of directions with regard to functioning of incineration plants in the city.
Beverages major Coca Cola too came under the lens of the apex environment body which appointed a local commissioner to inspect the premises of its Hapur plant in Uttar Pradesh and probe whether it was discharging effluents into a nearby pond.
Adulteration of petrol and diesel at fuel stations also came under the scanner of NGT which constituted a committee to inspect petrol pumps across Delhi-NCR.
Concerned over the festive season which involves kite- flying, the tribunal prohibited procuring, stocking, sale and use of Chinese manja and other synthetic threads coated with glass and other harmful substances as the sharp strings posed a threat to humans, animals and birds.