Nearly 20 years after the residents of Whitefield in Bengaluru began their fight against Graphite India Limited (GL) for violating pollution norms, the company told the Supreme Court on Monday that it will pay Rs 40 lakh as compensation. The court however told the company to pay Rs 50 lakh as per the 'polluters pay' principle, to the Karnataka Pollution Control Board in two weeks. The Graphite India Limited factory in Whitefield had been contributing to extensive environmental pollution resulting in many people presenting with health issues as well.
The compensation amount declared by GIL comes after the Supreme Court on October 23 asked the company to come up with a figure for the distress it had caused over the years. At the hearing on Monday, Shyam Divan, the senior advocate who represented GIL, told the bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur that the compensation could be utilised for measures to curb pollution in Whitefield, where its plant is located.
The apex court gave the company two weeks to deposit Rs 50 lakh to Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) under the ‘polluter pays’ principle. In accordance with this, the liability for any damage incurred to the environment or an individual falls on the one who is responsible for the same.
GIL’s offer for compensation comes nearly 20 years after residents of Whitefield went to the National Green Tribunal in 1997. They have been battling the company for violating norms, emitting black dust and pollution, even as it got away with legal loopholes despite a closure order by KSPCB in 2012. Over the years, residents have been exposed to a great amount of air pollution and have been at a greater risk of pollution-related health complications.
While GIL’s counsel had told the court that Whitefield plant would be closed by November end, a statement given by the company to Bombay Stock Exchange stated, “The Bengaluru plant has voluntarily initiated process of halting manufacturing process for revamping the broken roof sheets. The shutting down of the furnaces (by October end) will accelerate the process of revamping which would be completed by November 2018.”
The statement to BSE has raised suspicion among residents that the factory is most likely to start functioning soon.
A member of Whitefield Rising told TNM, “We are not going to counter the fine amount but will continue to pursue legal remedies. We will ask the factory to conform to pollution norms, and a technical committee to be formed look into the pollution parameters before the factory reopens.”
Srinivas Kotni, a lawyer appearing for Whitefield Rising, said, “The Supreme Court stated that the residents have other remedies to explore viz, pleading for an order or closure of the industry or relocation from the residential area as the same could not be granted in the present case owing to the procedural law mandates."