Days after Kiri Afghana’s Chadha Sugar Mills entered troubled waters, the situation turned bitter for it with the Punjab Government slapping an unprecedented fine of Rs 5crores as “environmental compensation”, besides directing the company’s prosecution.
This is the first-time ever that a fine of such a magnitude has been imposed on any organization for environmental issues. The fine amount would be used for restoration of Beas river.
Besides, the prosecution has been ordered “only against the officials responsible for operating the unit, and not against the owners”.
Led by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, the Government on Thursday decided to take stringent penal action, including Rs five crore penalty, against the Chadha Sugar Mill.
It has also been decided that the Mill, responsible for an “environment catastrophe of a very high level”, shall remain sealed as per the directions already issued on May 17, 2018, and the industry will not be allowed to restart any process unless all necessary pollution control measures are taken, as per the decisions taken by PPCB, which submitted its report to the Chief Minister at a high-level meeting.
Holding the Chadha Sugar Mill “guilty” after a hearing in the matter on Thursday, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has decided to slap a fine as “environmental compensation for causing degradation of ecology of Beas river due to spillage of its molasses in the river, on the basis of polluter pays principal”.
The hearing in the matter was held at PPCB’s Patiala headquarters, a day after summons were issued to the Mill to present its case before it in the matter.
“The money will be utilised for conservation and restoration of ecology of river Beas including rejuvenation of aquatic life. Besides, an action plan will also be prepared for the same by the Departments of Forest, Wildlife, Water Resources, PPCB, along with the PAU Ludhiana and GADVASU Ludhiana,” PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu said, after the hearing.
Pannu said that the action plan is to be spread over a period of five years so that sustainable results of ecological rejuvenation could be achieved.
PPCB chairman informed that as the Mill’s management has remained negligent in its approach to safeguard its installation which led to pollution in Beas river further leading to large scale mortality of aquatic life, “prosecution against the Mill and the responsible persons shall be filed in the competent court of law under sections 43 and 44, read with section 47 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, by PPCB Batala regional office’s environmental engineer after proper verification”.
“The criminal complaint shall be filed against the Mill and against the persons, who at the time of the offence was committed, was in-charge of and was responsible to the Company for the conduct and business of the Company as mentioned in section 47 of the said Act,” said Pannu.
After the hearing, Pannu said that pollution of Beas river, on account of spillage of molasses, has happened because the Mill management has not paid required attention for the safety of the installation of the Mill as a result, the incident has happened with large scale environmental proportions.
“It was the added duty of the Mill to take the issue of industrial safety of the Mill more seriously in view of the fact that the industry is situated on the river bed which is environmentally sensitive zone,” said Pannu.
He added that any pressure or any circumstances to crush more sugarcane than the capacity of the sugar mill fixed as per the environmental clearance granted by the Board does not justify the claim of the management to store additional molasses in an unscientific manner especially in view of the fact that the Mill is situated in a very sensitive zone.
A day before, the Chief Minister had directed the PPCB to submit its report in the matter by Thursday. The Board’s report asked the Mill to take fresh consent to operate under Section 25, and 26 of Water (Prevention of Control and Pollution) Act, 1974.
The Board held that the Mill industry will remain sealed, as per the directions already issued since May 17, under section 33 A of water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, and it would not restart any process unless all necessary pollution control measures are taken, and the industry would not restart its operations until it obtains fresh consent to operate.
It underlined that the Mill should not store molasses in tanks other than the mild steel tanks with cooling arrangements, recirculation, proper venting, arrangement of adding anti-foam or biocide which should be of sufficient capacity and location as per required standards for the environmentally sound storage of molasses.
The Board has also asked the Mill to obtain necessary approval from the Department of Excise and Taxation for generation, storage and sale of molasses as per East Punjab Molasses (Control Act), 1948, and the industry shall take necessary approval from the Director of Factories for the compliance of the provisions of Factories Act, 1948.
“A committee, consisting of representative of Director of Factories, State Excise and Taxation Commissioner and PPCB chairman, shall be constituted to suggest further safeguards required in the Mill with a view to ensure that such incidents do not re-occur in future,” stated the Board’s two-page order.
HIGH-LEVEL PANEL FORMED TO SUGGEST WAYS TO CLEAN UP STATE’S RIVERS
Directing the concerned authorities to take necessary action against the mill as per PPCB’s recommendations and decisions, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh on Thursday constituted a high-powered committee under the chairmanship of Environment Minister OP Soni to suggest measures for cleaning of the rivers in the state.
Committee, which has also been tasked with suggesting ways to ensure supply of clean potable water, has been asked to submit its report within 10 days, said the spokesperson, adding that the Chief Secretary has been directed by the Chief Minister to work out modalities for making funds available for this gigantic project.
Meanwhile, Capt Amarinder has asked the Water Supply and Sewerage Board managing director Ajoy Kumar Sharma to give a detailed presentation on cleaning of Buddha Nullah in Ludhiana, besides focusing on the causes of water pollution due to excessive discharge of industrial waste and effluents into it.
Capt Amarinder also underlined the need to study the reasons for water pollution due to reckless flow of effluents from leather tanneries into Kala Sanghian drain in Jalandhar district.
On a request by Soni, the Chief Minister asked the Water Supply and Sewerage Board managing director to take inputs from the Commissioners of Municipal Corporations of Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar for cleaning of river waters and provision of safe drinking water to the people.
It was decided that on the basis of this exercise, a comprehensive time-bound action plan would be prepared for cleaning of river Satluj, Beas and Ravi in a holistic manner.
The Chief Minister underscored the need to immediately make all the Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) in Ludhiana functional and asked the PPCB to monitor the progress in this regard on regular basis.
He also asked the PPCB chairman to ensure installation of ETPs in all the industrial units, especially of dying, textile and leather, as per the requisite norms and parameters.
ACTION TO BE INITIATED AGAINST GUILTY: SONI
Punjab Environment Minister OP Soni on Thursday said that action will be taken against those guilty.
Soni, after meeting the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, said that a case has been filed in this case and the Chief Minister will disclose the list of those who will be prosecuted in the matter through a press statement.
A day before, Soni had admitted that the water pollution problem in Punjab is grave. He had also met the environmentalist Baba Balbir Singh Seechewal along with Punjab Pollution Control Board chairman Kahan Singh Pannu at Shahkot to discuss the issue of molasses leak in Beas.
SATISFIED WITH NGT’s ACTION: AAP
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA and the Leader of Opposition in Vidhan Sabha Sukhpal Khaira, who had filed a complaint against the state authorities on the issue of molasses leak incident, on Thursday said that he was very much satisfied with the action by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
At the same time, Khaira maintained that he was highly dismayed over the stance taken by the Punjab Government and the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) that accused him of politicizing the matter.
Notably, NGT has issued notices to the Centre, States of Punjab and Rajasthan, Ludhiana and Jalandhar Municipal Corporations, Chadha Sugar Mills, Rana Sugars Limited, and others for July 17, while directing the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and PPCB to take samples of polluted rivers of Beas, Sutluj, Budda Nala and report within six weeks from today.
“It is very sad on the part of Capt Amarinder government that instead of taking immediate corrective and remedial measures on the serious issue of grave contamination and pollution in the rivers that led to death of thousands of fish and other aquatic animals besides spread of cancer in Punjab, his government is trying to skirt the burning issue by terming it a matter of politics,” he said.
Khaira said that he was satisfied to note that the bench of NGT ignored the assertions of Punjab Government and went ahead to order a time-bound inquiry. “I am amused to note that Capt Amarinder is shielding and abetting defaulters like Chadha Sugar Mills, Rana Sugars Limited and other powerful industrial houses poisoning the rivers of Punjab,” he said.
“I will take this issue of ecological disaster and poison in the waters of Punjab leading to more water borne diseases like cancer, hepatitis etc to its logical conclusion,” he said while urging Capt Amarinder not to behave like the “erstwhile arrogant Badals” who always preferred to shoot down the messenger instead of ensuring justice to the people of Punjab.
FIAPO SEEKS ACTION AGAINST CHADHA MILL
Seeking strict action against Chadha Sugar Industries Private Limited for causing pollution and damage to critical aquatic ecosystem of River Beas, India’s apex animal rights group — Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) has filed a written complaint with Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Kamaldeep Singh Sangha.
FIAPO’s campaign coordinator Bhavya Pande maintained that the recent incident of leakage of molasses into Beas river has caused massive destruction to the marine ecosystem in over 30 km stretch of the river near Amritsar and has caused death of hundreds of fishes.
“It has also come to light that the Indus Dolphin, a critically endangered marine mammal found only in India (Punjab) and Pakistan, has not been spotted in the River Beas since the molasses leakage incident,” it added.
Blaming the Chadha Sugar Mill for environmental destruction, Pande urged the DC to ensure its closure and impose strict penalty as per “applicable central laws and acts”.