Kochi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT), in an order on October 11, has imposed a fine of Rs 900 crore on the Delhi government for failing to dispose of waste amounting to three crore metric tonnes in three legacy landfills in the national capital.
This “presents a grim picture and an environmental emergency in the national capital”, the apex green court noted. It added that it is a “serious violation” of citizens’ rights by the concerned authorities – the Delhi government and the municipal corporation.
The NGT ruled that the compensatory amount, which the Delhi government has to deposit in a month, be used for the restoration of these sites with the help of several steps, including scientific waste management, leachate treatment and afforestation.
NGT orders on landfill fires
In April, the NGT had already taken up the issue of fires in Delhi’s Ghazipur landfill based on media reports, and had said that the fires were a hazard to public health and the environment.
“The dump sites in Delhi and in other cities are like time bombs, because they constantly generate explosive gases like methane, which may escape through vertical and lateral ways, posing a constant threat of explosion,” the order had noted.
Last year, the tribunal had noted that all legacy waste dump sites in India need to be “remediated” to reduce the release of methane, foul smells and leachate. The waste in these sites needs to be collected, processed, and disposed of with the help of scientific methods.
This was also a mandate under the Union government’s Swachh Bharat Mission, and a part of the sustainable development goals that the country is a signatory to, it had said.
“Such failure is also breach of constitutional obligation to uphold the Right to Life,” the order had said.
Additionally, it had said that the failure to dispose of the waste in such landfills would attract penalties.
A joint committee constituted by the tribunal to look into the issue of both the Ghazipur and Bhalswa landfills recommended bio-mining the legacy waste and setting up waste-to-energy plants, among other measures.
‘An environmental emergency’
In its latest order, the NGT noted that as of September 29, only around 21% of the legacy waste amounting to approximately 59 lakh tonnes in all three sites – Ghazipur, Bhalswa and Okhla – were bio-mined and processed. The rest – almost 80% of the legacy waste – still remains.
This presents a “grim picture and an environmental emergency” in the national capital, the tribunal’s principal bench, headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, noted. The waste is both an environmental and a health hazard. Moreover, this is public land of around 152 acres in total, which can be used by the public, it said.
“We thus conclude that there is a serious violation of rights of citizens and failure of public trust doctrine to protect environment and public health by the concerned authorities, including the Delhi government and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi,” the tribunal said. It noted that there is no accountability of officers entrusted with the task, and called for “emergency measures” to remedy the tackling of the legacy waste.
In the order, the tribunal fixed the penalty for the failure to dispose of the waste, amounting to three crore metric tonnes in all the three landfills put together, at Rs 900 crore (based on its assessment of costs for site restoration amounting to Rs 300 per metric tonne of waste).
The amount, which has to be deposited in a month and will be under the responsibility of the chief secretary, is to be used for the restoration of the environment, including scientific disposal of the waste as per environmental norms, afforestation and leachate treatment, among others, the tribunal noted.
Any delay in this will be “detrimental to public interest”, it said.
The matter will be next heard on February 10.
Separately, the Hindu reported that the Delhi government said they are “studying the order”.
Apart from Delhi, the NGT has fined several other states for their failure to dispose of waste of several kinds – solid, liquid and legacy – in recent times.
In an order dated September 23, the tribunal levied a compensation of Rs 100 crore on Haryana for its failure to tackle legacy waste in the Bandhwari landfill in Gurugram. On September 29, it imposed a fine of Rs 3,800 crore on Telangana. On September 8, it imposed a fine of Rs 12,000 crore on Maharashtra for its failure to deal with solid, liquid and legacy waste.