Win for B’luru’s Whitefield residents: NGT restores ‘closure order’ on Graphite India

This is a vindication for the Whitefield residents who have been fighting Graphite India over air pollution, in various courts for the last 20 years.
Win for B’luru’s Whitefield residents: NGT restores ‘closure order’ on Graphite India
Win for B’luru’s Whitefield residents: NGT restores ‘closure order’ on Graphite India

In a major victory for residents of Bengaluru’s Whitefield in their 20-year legal battle against Graphite India Limited with regards to air pollution, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday effectively spelt closure of the factory.

This comes after the Supreme Court in its October 30, 2018 judgement had fixed a sum of Rs 50 lakh as penalty for the erring company, as per the ‘polluters pay’ principle.

In its order on Thursday, the NGT restored the closure order given by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) in 2012. It further asked for a study to be conducted by an independent panel comprising members from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), KSPCB and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). The study has to be submitted to the NGT within two months’ time, the order stated.

The panel will carry out stack monitoring of the industry, ambient air monitoring of the factory and the surrounding area by installing monitoring stations at 10 different locations, and also a study on source apportionment of pollution.

Srinivas Kotni, the lawyer appearing for Whitefield Rising - the residents’ collective petitioning at various courts, said, “The NGT passed an order upholding the appeal made by the residents and agreed with the pollution control board closure order of 2012 setting aside the first Appellate order.”

The Karnataka State Appellate Authority vide its order dated June 22, 2013, had allowed the appeal of Graphite India. However, out of the three members, one of them had passed a separate dissenting judgement.

“In effect, they agreed with the single dissenting judgement of the first Appellate order,” Srinivas added.  

The verdict comes after the residents had first approached the Pollution Control Board in 1997 and then various courts, over the company’s blatant violation of norms and emission of black dust. Over the years, residents claim they have been exposed to greater air pollution and are at a higher risk of pollution-related health complications since Graphite India continued operations by exploiting legal loopholes and due to lack of stringent measures by the KSPCB.

Details of the NGT order

Criticising the Appellate Authority judgement, the NGT order observed, “We need not enter into further details of the case except to observe that the appellant, while assailing the impugned judgment of the Appellate Authority, submitted that the Appellate Authority had overlooked vital relevant facts and glaring evidence of pollution caused by Respondent no. 1 (Graphite India) as it had been indisputably identified as pollution from graphite. It is contended that pollution caused by graphite industry is clearly distinguishable from vehicular and other pollutions. That apart, severe impact on the health of the residents resulting from graphite particulate matter was not taken into consideration.”

It added, “Upon careful consideration of the judgment passed by the majority of the Members, we find that the reasons assigned for holding the order of the KSPCB to be bad are not backed by any scientific evidence or data. It rather appears to be presumptuous. The crux of the findings of the majority judgment is that the black soot or dust cannot be attributed to the Respondent no. 1 alone as there were other industries including cement industries in the area apart from the heavy vehicular traffic in the vicinity. It has also been held that the KSPCB had not examined the case keeping in view the other likely sources of pollution. The other remarkable observation in the majority judgment is that the residents complaining of the pollution had settled in an industrial area near the industry being fully aware of the pollution that would be caused.”

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