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"Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the enterprise", the NGT observed.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has taken suo moto cognizance of the Vizag gas leak incident and has directed the company, LG polymers, to deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 Crores with the District Magistrate, Vizag.
The incident that took place on the intervening night of May 6 and 7 in Visakhapatnam had left as many as 11 dead in and over 100 people hospitalized. About a thousand others have reported sickness following the gas leak. The NGT also observed that the fatalities and the injuries are only likely to increase.
The NGT has issued notice to the Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board, the District Magistrate of Visakhapatnam, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, as well as to LG Polymers India Pvt., Limited, from whose plant, the leak occured.
LG polymers has also been directed by the Tribunal to deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 Crores with the District Magistrate of Visakhapatnam. The Tribunal said,
"Having regard to the prima facie material regarding the extent of damage to life, public health and environment, we direct LG Polymers India Pvt., Limited to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs. 50 Crore, with the District Magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, which will abide by further orders of this Tribunal. The amount is being fixed having regard to the financial worth of the company and the extent of the damage caused."
The NGT has also constituted a five-member committee to look into the matter and file a report before the Tribunal. The Committee will comprise of the following members:
Justice B. Seshasayana Reddy, Former Judge, A.P. High Court; - (Online till he is able to reach Vizag);
Prof. Ch V Rama Chandra Murthy, Former Vice Chancellor, Andhra University, Vizag;
Professor Pulipati King, Head of Chemical Engineering Department, Andhra University, Vizag;
Member Secretary, CPCB (Online, if travel is restricted due to Covid-19);
Director, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (Online, if travel is restricted due to Covid-19);
Head, NEERI, Vizag.
This fact finding committee is required to submit its report after site visit before the next date of hearing which is fixed at May 18.
The NGT has directed that the Committee's report include the following aspects - the sequence of events, causes of failure and responsible persons, the extent of human and environment damage caused, steps for compensating the victims, remedial measures, and other allied issues if any.
The gas that leaked in this incident is Styrene which is a hazardous chemical as defined under Rule 2(e) read with Entry 583 of Schedule I to the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989.
The Rules, as regards such hazardous chemicals, prescribe certain on-site and off-site emergency plans. The NGT noted that there appears to be a failure of compliance in this regard.
"Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of ‘Strict Liability’ against the enterprise engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry. Such an entity is liable to restore the damage caused under the Environment Law, apart from other statutory liability, " the Tribunal added.
The Andhra Pradesh High Court had also taken suo moto cognizance of the incident on May 7 and passed directions for the State to take all necessary steps to mitigate the damage and take steps for evacuation of persons in the vicinity of the plant and their medical treatment and provision of food, among others.