Bombay HC stays post-facto CRZ clearance for projects

Hindustan Times | Prayag Arora-Desai | May 08, 2021
The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday stayed a recent office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), allowing the ex-post facto approval of projects that have not yet obtained coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance under the CRZ Notification, 2011

The Bombay high court (HC) on Friday stayed a recent office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), allowing the ex-post facto approval of projects that have not yet obtained coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance under the CRZ Notification, 2011.

The stay was in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Mumbai-based environmental group, challenging the constitutional validity of MoEFCC’s direction. The matter has been listed for final hearing on June 30, before a two-judge bench comprising chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice GS Kulkarni.

The impugned office memorandum, dated February 19, and authored by joint secretary of MoEFCC’s CRZ division Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, was also stayed by the Madurai bench of the Madras HC on April 29, in response to a different petition.

MoEFCC’s office memo would have allowed projects – typically permitted as per CRZ, 2011, but did not seek requisite clearances prior to commencement –to become regularised subject to fulfilment of certain conditions.

“Bringing such projects and activities in compliance with the environmental laws at the earliest point of time is therefore essential, rather than leaving them unregulated and unchecked, which will be more damaging to the environment,” Bajpayee had written to the environment secretaries of all coastal states.

“As the project commenced construction and/or operations without a prior CRZ clearance, the respective coastal zone management authority shall assess the environmental damages caused by such an action and shall give specific recommendation in respect of activities, corresponding to the environmental or ecological damage assessed, to be taken up by the project proponent within a period of three years from the date of clearance, under compensatory conservation plan (CCP) and a community resource augmentation plan,” stated MoEFCC’s February 19 office memorandum, which has been reviewed by HT.

“This circular empowers coastal authorities/MoEFCC to regularise all kinds of CRZ violations on a day-to-day basis, making it easier for environmental violators to evade substantive law. It further encourages a “pollute and pay” principle rather than the ‘precautionary principle’. A public interest litigation is filed by Vanashakti on the ground that this circular is arbitrary, wholly unconstitutional and in direct contravention of recent Supreme Court judgments,” said Mumbai-based NGO Vanashakti, at the time of filing their PIL before HC on March 30.

Experts also pointed out while the amended CRZ (2019) notification has come into force, contingent coastal zone management plans (CZMP) as per the same have not yet been finalised. Until such a time, CRZ 2011 rules should remain in force, Vanashakti’s petition clarified, adding that neither notification allows for grant of ‘ex-post facto CRZ clearance’ which the MoEFCC’s office memorandum proposes to facilitate.

HC has also stated that if any permission has been granted or any application has been received for any such CRZ regularisation by a violator since February 2019, then such persons and industries are to be informed of the proceedings stemming from Vanashakti’s PIL.

“All such permissions and applications will be subjected to the outcome of the present PIL,” said Vanashakti’s advocate, Zaman Ali. A copy of the HC order is not yet available. The Madras HC, meanwhile, is set to take up the matter on August 25, in response to a PIL filed by R Fatima of Thoothukudi.

Vizag gas leak: A year on, villagers near the plant continue to live in fear

Hindustan Times | Srinivasa Rao Apparasu | May 08, 2021

Though the plant has since been closed following orders from the Andhra Pradesh high court, residents of Venkatapuram and four other villages surrounding the plant said the horror from the tragic incident haunt them to this day.

A year on since Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh woke up to one of its worst environmental disasters – leakage of poisonous gas from a storage tank of LG Polymers Ltd, a South Korean company on the outskirts of the city, killed 12 people while nearly 500 were hospitalised – villagers settled near the plant continue to live in a state of fear.

Though the plant has since been closed following orders from the Andhra Pradesh high court, residents of Venkatapuram and four other villages surrounding the plant said the horror from the tragic incident haunt them to this day.

On May 7 last year, poisonous Styrene gas leaked from one of the tanks at LG Polymers Ltd due to sudden rise in temperature at the bottom of the tank at around 3.30 am. The gas slowly spread over a radius of about 3 km, affecting five villages — Venkatapuram, Venkatadri Nagar, Nandamuri Nagar, Pydimamba Colony and BC & SC Colony.

Srinu Yadav, a transport worker from Venkatapuram, said the incident had created havoc in the lives of several villagers, particularly the poor and the middle class. “Many in these villages, particularly Venkatapuram, where the LG Polymers plant is located, continue to face health issues, like breathing problems, asthma, and gastrointestinal disorders,” Yadav said.
The villagers recall how thanks to the timely alert from locals, the authorities of Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation and the district administration swung into action and shifted people from the affected areas with the help of police to safer areas.

The Jagan Mohan Reddy government paid ex gratia of ₹1 crore each to the families of the 12 who died in the incident, besides ₹10 lakh for persons who were kept on ventilator for a long time, ₹1 lakh each to 485 people who were hospitalised with serious complications and ₹25,000 each to 99 people who were treated as outpatients. Another 19,893 people were paid ₹25,000 each towards compensation.
“In the next one week, three others from the affected villages died but the authorities attributed their deaths to some other reasons. In the last one year, at least 15 people, including my father-in-law, died due to symptoms that surfaced after the Styrene gas leak. But no forensic studies were done to prove they were related to the gas leak tragedy,” Yadav said.

An eight-member expert committee headed by state special chief secretary (environment and forests) Neerabh Kumar Prasad, which was constituted to probe into the mishap, came up with a series of suggestions, including periodical testing of health conditions of villagers in the area so as to monitor the short-term and long-term impact of the Styrene gas on their health.
“Subsequently, a committee of health experts was appointed to regularly monitor the health of people in the affected villages, but it did not commence its work because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” K Kumara Mangalam, a local trade union leader, said.

He added that the government has washed off its hands by setting up a primary health centre in a local school, but it hardly helped. “Except for an occasional visit by a junior doctor and para-medical staff, nothing much has happened. It doesn’t have any facilities, though the authorities promised to set up a hospital in the area,” Mangalam said.

A study conducted in March this year by local environmentalists under Alluri Sitarama Raju Vignana Kendram on environment, health and safety of people in the villages surrounding LG Polymers, observed that the GVMC authorities were neither monitoring water bodies periodically nor getting an expert study on the water quality.
“Most of the households are depending on the canned water for drinking purposes and spending between ₹300- 600 per month,” said K Eswar, another resident.

An official of the GVMC, however, denied contamination of the drinking water in villages. “Scientists belonging to CSIR-National Environment Engineering Research Institute studied the water samples in and around the area and found that styrene is insoluble in water and would drain away in case of water flow. We are supplying Godavari water to local residents through pipeline,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The LG Polymers has shut its operations since the tragedy and the Korean management, with special permission from the Ministry of Shipping, shifted 13,000 tonnes of unused Styrene in two ships back to Seoul. On April 6 this year, the company got permission from the high court to move and sell leftover raw material, finished product and packaging material from the plant as it could pose danger to the public health if left unattended.
The court directed that sale process be done in the supervision of a three-member committee appointed by the state government and the company deposit the sales proceeds in an account in the name of Vizag district collector.

The villagers in the area are apprehensive that the LG Polymers might restart their operations once the cases pending in the high court and the National Green Tribunal were settled. “Unless the plant is completely shifted from the area, the fear of recurrence of such incidents will continue to haunt us,” said S Pydi Raju, a resident of Venkatapuram.

When contacted, state industries minister Mekapati Gautam Reddy said the government has not focused on LG Polymers as of now as it was busy tackling the Covid-19 situation. “We shall take appropriate decision after discussing with the industries department authorities later,” he said.

Polavaram backwaters has no impact on Telangana, AP govt. reiterates at PPA meeting

Hans News Service | May 07, 2021

The Andhra Pradesh state government has once again made it clear to the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) that the land in Telangana will not be flooded at all due to the backwater impact of the Polavaram project

The Andhra Pradesh state government has once again made it clear to the Polavaram Project Authority (PPA) that the land in Telangana will not be flooded at all due to the backwater impact of the Polavaram project. It said that a joint survey has been conducted with Telangana Water Resources Department officials on the impact of the project backwater on the Kinnerasani and Murredu tributaries and details will be sent to the Central Water Commission (CWC) within 12 months. The government said that according to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Declaration-2006, Gram Sabhas should be held within 45 days of the issuance of the notification, stating that the Governments of Odisha and Chhattisgarh have not yet held Gram Sabhas in flood prone areas.

A letter was written to Union Forest and Environment Secretary Rameshwar Prasad Gupta on May 15 asking him to hold gram sabhas in those states with the regulatory authority as per EIA-2006 regulations. The government clarified that the construction work of the project is being carried out in accordance with the orders of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Polavaram Project Authority Chairman Chandrasekhar Iyer on Thursday held a wide-ranging meeting with AP, Telangana, Chhattisgarh and Odisha Water Resources Department officials, CWC and Union Forest Environment Department officials on a virtual basis on issues raised by the NGT in the wake of a petition filed alleging flooding of Telangana territory due to construction of Polavaram project. AP Water Resources Secretary J Shyamala Rao, ENC C Narayanareddy, CE Sudhakarbabu, Telangana ENC Muralidhar, CWC Hydrology Department CE C Lal and Central Forest Environment Department officials were present while officials from Odisha and Chhattisgarh were absent.

Telangana ENC Muralidhar said at the meeting that the Polavaram project is being constructed with an estimated flood flow of 50 lakh cusecs, which will cause landslides in Telangana. In this backdrop, AP ENC Narayana Reddy denied that it was an apocalypse and clarified that a maximum flood of 36 lakh cusecs was recorded on August 16, 1986 in the history of Godavari river and the project was being constructed so that it could be easily released downstream even if 50 lakh cusecs was received for project safety as per CWC directives. He reminded that the CWC had conducted a backwater survey with the expectation of a flood of 36 lakh cusecs at Polavaram and was found that not a single acre in Telangana was submerged.

AP ENC further said they had conducted a survey with Telangana authorities on the impact of backwaters on the Murredu and Kinnerasani tributaries and that the details would be sent to the CWC within 12 months. The governments of Odisha and Chhattisgarh have said that the Polavaram backwaters will cause flooding in their states. AP Water Resources Secretary Shyamala Rao said that they are ready to build defensive walls to avoid that problem. Central Forest and Environment Ministry officials said they would take appropriate decision on the letter written by the AP officials to hold gram sabhas in the flood-affected areas. PPA Chairman Chandrasekhar Iyer said the project was targeted to be completed by April 2022 and rehabilitate the displaced.

Odisha Mining Industries Seek Public Hearing Through Online Mode

Republic Bharat | May 07, 2021

Bhubaneswar, May 6 (PTI) The mining sector in Odisha has urged the Centre to allow public hearings through online mode instead of cancelling the procedure due to the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federation of Indian Mineral Industries in a memorandum to the secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Changes, said that cancellation of public hearing will adversely affect mining production in the country.

The federation wrote a letter after the Odisha State Pollution Control Board cancelled public hearing of certain mining projects due to the surge in the COVID-19 pandemic. The public hearings were cancelled to avoid gathering of people at the proposed events.

“Such cancellation of public hearing will cause inordinate delays in grant of Environment Clearance (EC) process,” the federation said, adding that this will further impede mining activities besides adversely impacting the socio-economic development as well as employment opportunities in mining regions, along with revenues of the exchequer.

Therefore, the federation suggested expediting the public hearing for mining projects by conducting them through online platform/ digital more rather than cancelling them.

Such online public hearing will greatly help in saving time and resources for the public as well as all other stakeholders while being able to strictly follow the governments guidelines for COVID-19 and being safe, it said.

The federation urged the Centre to advise the Odisha State Pollution Control Board to conduct public hearing instead of cancelling them for indefinite period.

Eastern Zone Mining Association also urged the OSPCB to facilitate EC proposals for the state based projects. PTI AAM RG RG

Fossil Fuels, Climate Change and India’s COVID-19 Crisis

Time to Flourish | May 06, 2021

The surge of COVID-19 cases and the humanitarian crisis now unfolding in India has shocked the world and led to a search for an explanation of how the situation got so bad so fast. Scientists are investigating several factors including new variants and public health officials have pointed to underinvestment in the country’s health system.

Undoubtedly, the causes are varied, and as I watched the numbers surge, I began to wonder whether it’s worth considering the role air pollution may be playing. Since the early days of the pandemic, researchers have understood that exposure to polluted air makes people more vulnerable to COVID-19, and India’s megalopolises are among the most polluted in the world. “We understand that the impact of pandemic can be higher in polluted regions where people’s lungs have already been weakened due to long term exposures,” says Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director of research and advocacy at Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi. “That makes Indian cities vulnerable.”

There’s been some research on air pollution and COVID-19 in India specifically, but it’s probably first worth looking at the bigger picture. A slew of studies have shown direct links between exposure to air pollution and vulnerability to COVID-19. One paper published in December in the journal Cardiovascular Research found that chronic exposure to particulate matter—a type of pollution that results from a mix of chemicals that come from sources like smokestacks and fires—is likely linked to some 15% of global COVID-19 deaths. Particulate matter doesn’t just come from fossil fuels, but the study’s authors found that more than 50% of air pollution-linked COVID-19 deaths are specifically connected to fossil-fuel use.

A seemingly endless stack of studies has shown the causal links that explain this: extended exposure to air pollution contributes to a range of ailments—from asthma to diabetes—that are risk factors for COVID-19.

The research in India is still in early stages, but scientists have already begun to evaluate the local connection. A preliminary study out of Malaviya National Institute of Technology in Jaipur, India found a correlation between COVID-19 cases and air pollution and climatic conditions—like wind and humidity—in Delhi. Another preliminary paper from the World Bank relying on data from India found that a “1 percent increase in long-term exposure to [particulate matter] leads to an increase in COVID-19 deaths by 5.7 percentage points.” The study suggested a range of “urgent” interventions from promoting cleaner fuel sources to reducing pollution in the transportation system that would complement more obvious public health measures like vaccination and mask wearing.

“A scientific consensus seems to be emerging that improving air quality may play an important role in overcoming or at least reducing the impacts of the pandemic,” the authors of the World Bank paper wrote. “Research implies that pollution must be limited as much as possible when lockdowns are lifted.”

This dynamic is important to understand not only because it helps explain one factor that has worsened the pandemic, but also because it offers a lens into so-called “climate co-benefits”—a key consideration that helps make the case for urgent action on climate change. That term refers to the positive effects beyond carbon dioxide emissions reduction that result from tackling climate change. Co-benefits range from improved soil health (resulting from agricultural practices that reduce carbon emissions) to improved energy security (as a positive outcome of expanding renewable energy sources and reducing reliance on fossil fuel imports).

But perhaps no co-benefit is more significant—and more urgent—on a global level than the clean air that results from nixing fossil fuels. In India, for example, chronic exposure to air pollution causes the premature death of more than a million people each year. Hundreds of thousands more are similarly affected in China. Even in the U.S., which has relatively strict environmental standards, more than 100,000 people have been estimated to die prematurely due to particulate matter air pollution every year, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And, in the U.S. and around the world, the burden falls disproportionately on low-income communities of color.

Policymakers and scientists have had many a thorny debate about the best ways to account for those co-benefits, but on a purely human level it’s another example of how tackling climate change would save lives—not just 30 years in the future but right now.

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