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The compensation was being levied on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, says tribunal

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed penalty of ₹52 crore on Udupi Power Corporation Ltd (UPCL), an Adani group company, for violating environmental laws and polluting its surroundings at Nandikur near Padubidri in Udupi district of Karnataka.

The May 31 order of the southern Bench of NGT – comprising of the judicial member, K Ramakrishnan, and expert members Satyagopal Korlapati and Vijay Kulkarni – said the environmental compensation was being levied on the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

The order said: “UPCL shall pay an environmental compensation of ₹52,02,50,000 for the damage caused to the environment on account of the violation of conditions and directions issued and health impact in that area and the amount of ₹5,00,00,000 already deposited by them can be given credit to this and they need to pay the balance amount to the Central Pollution Control Board within a period of three months. If the amount is not paid within three months, then the Central Pollution Control Board is directed to recover the amount from. UPCL in accordance with law.”

The ruling was delivered on a batch of original applications and appeals filed by Janajagruti Samithi of Nandikur and others against the setting up of the 600X2 MW imported coal-based thermal power plant at Yellur-Nandikur villages of Udupi district.

Initially, Nagarjuna Fertiliser and Chemical Ltd was permitted to establish a 2 million tonne per annum steel plant with a 1000 MW captive power generation plant in Mangaluru by the Karnataka Government on November 15 1995. Subsequently, KIADB permitted shifting of the power plant to Yellur, Santhur, Padebettu and Thenka villages of Udupi taluk. The project was not location specific and the environment clearances were not in order.

Challenges clearance

A few other applications challenged the environment clearance given by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on August 1 2017, for adding 800X2 MW imported coal-based thermal power plant to UPCL, saying existing plants were causing environmental damage.

Before transferring the applications to NGT (southern bench), Chennai, the Principal Bench had on March 14, 2019 ruled that the environment clearance given for expansion was bad owing to the failure to hold a public hearing.

The Bench, however, did not order restoration of the original position with regard to existing power plants on the ground that power production had commenced and the units were integrated with the power grid. However, the polluter has to pay, NGT said in its order.

The order of the southern bench of NGT said 50 per cent of the compensation should be utilised for improving environmental infrastructure, including water supply, sewage, STP, solid waste management, healthcare and skill development, by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) in consultation with the Udupi Deputy Commissioner. If UPCL does not pay the compensation to CPCB within three months, the board should recover it as per law, it said.

Carrying capacity

MoEFCC should consider the carrying capacity study of the region done by the Karnataka government and incorporate fresh terms of reference for another study, before directing UPCL to conduct a fresh Environment Impact Assessment study by an accredited agency. Only thereafter, it may consider issuing environmental clearance for the project’s expansion, the order said.

The southern bench of NGT constituted a committee headed by the Deputy Commissioner or his/her nominee with officials from the departments of agriculture and horticulture and CPCB scientists to conduct a detailed study on the impact of UPCL activities on agricultural land and farm produce within a 10-km radius of the plant. CPCB and KSPCB are expected to periodically monitor the pollution of air, soil and water by UPCL’s activities.

The order said that the applicants may approach the tribunal if UPCL again violates environmental laws. They were also free to challenge the environment clearance, if issued by MoEFCC, for expansion of the project, it said.

Published on June 03, 2022