Shut for good: The Madras HC cited the polluter pays principle while rejecting Vedanta's plea to reopen the Sterlite copper smelter in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu | Photo: The New Indian Express

Madras HC “permanently seals” Vedanta smelter, says environment will reign supreme over economy

The Madras high court refused Vedanta’s plea to reopen the company’s copper smelter two years after it was closed following the deaths of 13 unarmed anti-pollution protesters in police firing. Vedanta, accused of polluting the environment, had denied the charges saying the unit was shut in “political response” to deaths in police firing. However, the court centred its verdict on the issue of pollution saying the polluter pays principle needs to be applied.

On May 22, 2018, thousands of people took to the streets of Thoothukudi in south India against Vedanta. The 815-page judgment stated that the case “cannot be treated as a knee-jerk reaction”.

On Vedanta’s plea that shutting of the plant will be a “blow to the economy”, the verdict said, “The courts have held that when it comes to the economy pitted against the environment, the environment will reign supreme.” Vedanta has also fallen into legal trouble over its operations in Zambia.

Four oil & gas firms to pay 286-cr fine for polluting Mumbai’s ‘gas chamber’ areas of Mahul, Chembur 

While coming down heavily on oil and gas companies, India’s green court, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), slapped a ₹286-crore fine on them for turning Ambapada, Mahul and Chembur in Mumbai  into “a gas chamber”.

Four companies, including Bharat Petroleum (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum (HPCL),  BPCL and HPCL, M/s Sealord Containers Limited and Aegis Logistics Limited were found guilty of releasing volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Based on the principle of polluter pays, the NGT has levied fines of ₹76.5 crore for HPCL, ₹67.5 crore for BPCL, ₹142 crore for Aegis and ₹20 lakh for Sealord.

The ‘respiratory morbidity survey’ conducted in 2015 with the residents in Ambapada, Chembur and Mahul found 67.1% of the people in Mahul area complained of breathlessness more than three times a month, 76.3% reported complaints in all seasons, 86.6% complained of eye-irritation and 84.5% felt a persistent chest pain. A pulmonary function test had shown that 7.3% had mild restriction and 5% had mild obstruction of the lungs.

Power giant NTPC to transfer fly ash to cement manufacturers

In a positive move, the state power firm NTPC has begun shifting tonnes of toxic fly ash in railway wagons to be used by the cement industry. The National Thermal Power Corporation flagged off fly ash from its 3,000 MW Rihand plant to cement plants in UP’s Amethi district. The plant now has facilities to load dry fly ash from Silo storage systems onto railway wagons.

Experts point out the move may help address the issue of overabundance of fly ash piling up in Singrauli-Sonbhadra region, at the boundary of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The state firm struck a deal with the railways and cement companies to supply the fly ash. The polluted Singrauli-Sonbhadra region has nine major thermal power stations, including three NTPC-owned plants — Rihand (3,000 MW), Vindhyachal (4,760 MW) and Singrauli (2,000 MW). Half of the 51 GW combined installed capacity of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh is located in the Singrauli-Sonbhadra region. Three major incidents of fly ash breach in the region have exposed the plants’ failure to manage unused ash.  Sudden ash flooding in the villages has resulted in deaths at times. 

No registration of inferior BS IV fuel vehicles sold after lockdown in Delhi 

India’s Supreme Court refused to allow registration of inferior BS IV fuel compliant vehicles in Delhi-NCR which missed the deadline of March 31. In the rest of the country, the top court allowed the registrations of vehicles that were sold in March but could not be registered by the March 31 deadline because of the COVID-19 lockdown. The decision came after the automobile dealers’ lobby (FADA) filed an affidavit in the top court sharing details of sold, but unregistered BS-IV vehicles. 

Earlier, the top court had ordered the dealers’ association to submit the details of vehicles sold either online or through direct sale during the last week of March. The court had told dealers’ lawyers it would take appropriate action against those responsible for the vehicles sold, especially on March 29, 30 and 31 during the lockdown.

PM backs clean air plan for 100 cities, experts say need policy targets for industry 

In his August 15 Independence Day speech, PM Modi had said a clean air plan will be implemented on mission mode in 100 cities, but reports suggest the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) launched last year is yet to make progress. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is directing states to implement the city-level action plans approved for around 102 cities to meet the NCAP target of 20% to 30% reduction in PM 2.5 concentrations over the 2017 annual concentration.

Experts warn that the Centre should have clear indicators tracking NCAP 2024 targets. They pointed out that COVID-19 restrictions helped meeting those targets, but industries’ bid to bounce back will pollute the air. 

Mercedes makers pay $3 billion over using software to cheat diesel emissions test

In the diesel emissions cheating software case, German carmakers Daimler reached a nearly US$3 billion settlement with US regulators and vehicle owners. The case for civil and environmental damages was linked with 250,000 US diesel passenger cars and vans in the United States. 

The breakup of the settlement includes total US$1.5 billion with U.S. authorities, about US$700 million with owners and “further expenses of a mid three-digit-million EUR (euro) amount to fulfil requirements of the settlements.” Daimler stated. The maker of Mercedes-Benz cars said the settlement will impact its cash flow over the next three years, with the main impact within the next 12 months.

Daimler came under the scanner after Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing secret software on 580,000 US vehicles, which allowed them to emit up to 40 times legally allowable emissions. VW stopped selling diesel cars in the US after a US$25-billion settlement with car-owners and the authorities. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in 2019 reached a settlement worth about US$800 million with regulators and owners over using illegal software that produced false results on diesel-emissions tests, but still face an ongoing criminal probe.

Air pollution making bees and fruit flies sick and sluggish: Study

According to WHO, 4.6 million people die because of air pollution annually. What’s the impact on other species? A new study from India has revealed air pollution is making the honey bees in the wild sluggish and it may be shortening their lives. Bees exist in the wild and in cities as vital pollinators. They travel hundreds of kilometres annually as they pollinate thousands of plants and crops across the country. 

Researchers studied the species in Bengaluru, which has some of the highest levels of air pollution in the country. Scientists collected the giant Asian honey bees from four different sites with different levels of air pollution. The bees were observed for three years. At the most polluted sites, they made significantly fewer flights to flowers, thereby reducing the number of plants that could be pollinated in those areas. The bees at these sites were stressed and had low immunity. They were covered in arsenic and lead, their heartbeat was arrhythmic and they died faster on being captured.

The experiment with fruit flies also showed the same results. Scientists also found there were fewer flowers as pollution levels grew. Scientists said pollution from traffic impairs the bees in their pollinating duties, resulting in fewer flowers and insects, which would severely limit our diets. 

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