In a relief for the residents of Whitefield in Bengaluru affected by the air pollution from Graphite India factory in their neighbourhood, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the company to decide on a compensation amount for the distress it caused “over the years”. The case will be heard on October 29 again.
In its admission to the apex court, the company claimed that it will shut its Whitefield operations by November end. Senior counsel Shyam Divan, who appeared for Graphite India, was asked to come up with an amount as per the 'polluters pays’ principle, although Divan insisted that the plant will be shut by November end.
Srinivas Kotni, the lawyer appearing for Whitefield Rising, a resident collective, said the apex court identified Graphite India as a polluter based on the submissions by Sunita Narayan, a member of the Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA), formed on October 9.
Sunita had pointed out that other than the visible proof of pollution, such as the black soot, Graphite India uses domestic unrefined petroleum coke as opposed to the mandated imported one.
“The court wanted to ask what kind of compensation should the company pay for the kind of pollution they have caused over the years. The court understands and agrees that there is pollution caused by the factory. In the next hearing, we would know how the penalty will be imposed,” Kotni said.
The Supreme Court identifying Graphite India as a pollutant comes days after the company in an exchange filing at the National Stock Exchange (NSE) and the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) claimed that they are a “law-abiding entity” that gives “utmost importance towards statutory compliance including environment matters”.
For close to two decades, residents of Whitefield have been fighting against Graphite India for violating pollution norms and getting away with legal loopholes despite a closure order by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board in 2012. In the process, residents of the area allege they have been exposed to a great amount of air pollution and as a result have been at a greater risk of pollution-related health complications.
Recently, based on the complaints received from the residents, the EPCA had asked the KSPCB to inspect the factory, following which, Graphite India was denied consent for operation.