Order of the Supreme Court of India regarding industrial pollution in and around Ambapada and Mahul, Mumbai, Maharashtra, 14/08/2020

Order of the Supreme Court of India in the matter of Aegis Logistics Limited Vs Charudatt Pandurang Koli & Others dated 14/08/2020.

The present application in the SC is related to the National Green Tribunal order of June 30, 2020 in Original Application No. 40 of 2014.

Brief History of the Case: 

An application was filed before the NGT to the issue of air pollution caused in and around Ambapada and Mahul in Mumbai by industries which were alleged to be the source of pollution. By its judgment dated 18 December 2015, the NGT, inter alia, found that the appellant - Aegis Logistics Limited and certain other entities – M/s Sea Lord Containers Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) were the source of the deterioration of the air quality leading to a threat to the health of the residents. The NGT directed the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board to prepare an action plan for control of air pollution. It also directed that a health impact study and a study as regards Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) be carried out together with remedial actions.

On 15 July 2019, the CPCB was directed to assess the value of damage to the environment and to public health and that the amount be recovered from the polluting units. The CPCB submitted a report on 18 March 2020 assessing the damages payable by the appellant at Rs 288.2 crores. In addition, damages were assessed against the HPCL, BPCL and Sea Lord Containers Limited. Objections against the report of the CPCB were placed before the NGT.

Before the NGT, the units had sought a direction to the CPCB to disclose the basis on which it had assessed the quantum of VOCs attributable to them. This was opposed by the CPCB, which stated that the basis of estimation was the data which was furnished by the units in response to a questionnaire, as mentioned in the report.

The NGT directed the CPCB to provide the basis of the calculation of the quantum of emission by 13 July 2020. The CPCB filed its report on the assessment of VOC emissions on 20 July 2020 before the NGT. Following the report which was filed by the CPCB, the appellant filed an application before the NGT on 22 July 2020, seeking to draw its attention to certain issues, before the final order was passed. The grievance of the appellant was that the application had not been listed by the NGT and without hearing the applicant on the CPCB report dated 20 July 2020, the NGT had closed the proceedings for orders which are to be uploaded by August 17, 2020.

According to the appellant, since the NGT by its impugned order had directed the CPCB to furnish the basis of its calculation of the quantum of emissions and the respondents before it were granted liberty to file further written submissions, it was only appropriate and proper that the parties are heard before the final judgment is delivered.

Mukul Rohatgi, counsel appearing on behalf of the appellant has submitted that the appellant desires to place its submissions before the NGT in respect of the clarification report which has been filed by the CPCB on 20 July 2020, after the proceedings were closed for orders. This submission was also supported by the counsel appearing on behalf of HPCL, which was one of the parties before the NGT.

Supreme Court Order: 

The SC noted that since the NGT had by its impugned order directed the CPCB to file a report on its estimation of VOC emissions, which was done by the CPCB on 20 July 2020, and liberty was granted by the Tribunal to the affected units to file their submissions in regard to the report, it would be only appropriate and proper if a brief hearing is given to the parties in regard to the CPCB report. The apex court requested the National Green Tribunal to hear the appellant on the application which has been filed on 22 July 2020, raising objections to the CPCB report, which has been filed on 20 July 2020 after the last hearing before the Tribunal when the matter was closed for judgment.

"It is appropriate and proper that the NGT does so in order to obviate the grievance that the final judgment is delivered without complying with the principle of natural justice," the SC order said. NGT has been asked to hear the objections of Aegis Logistics Limited and any other parties with regard to the CPCB report filed on July 20, 2020. Then only proceed with pronouncing the judgement.