POLLUTION BY TANNERIES IN TAMIL NADU CASE ON PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE AND POLLUTER PAYS PRINCIPLE: Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum Vs Union of India & Ors., W.P.(C ) No. 914/1991
The Vellore Citizen Welfare Forum filed this Writ Petition as public interest litigation. In this petition, the Welfare Forum alleged that the tanneries and other industries were discharging untreated effluent into the agriculture fields, roadsides, waterways and open lands in the State of Tamil Nadu. The untreated effluent of these tanneries and industries were finally discharged in the river Palar which was the main source of water supply to the residents of the area. The Welfare Forum further alleged that the entire surface and sub-soil water of river Palar was polluted resulting in non-availability of potable water to the residents of the area. Due to the operation of these tanneries in the state of Tamil Nadu environmental degradation was caused. According to the survey conducted by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University Research Centre, Vellore, nearly 35,000 hectares of agricultural land in the tanneries belt had turned out partially or totally unfit for cultivation. These tanneries used about 170 types of chemicals in the Chrome tanning processes. These chemicals include common salt, lime, sodium sulphuric, chromium sulphate, fat liquor, ammonia and sulphuric acid besides dyes which are used in large quantities. Approximately 35 cubic metre of water is used for processing 1 kg finished leather resulting in dangerously enormous quantity of toxic effluents which were let out in the open by the tanning industries. The effluents have spoiled physico chemical properties of the soil and have contaminated groundwater by percolation.
An independent survey was conducted by Peace Members, Non-Governmental Organization and Peddiar Chatram Anchayat Unions found that 350 wells out of total 467 used for drinking and irrigation purposes were polluted. Women, children were forced to walk miles to get drinking water. On the request of the Legal and Aid Advise Board of Tamil Nadu, two lawyers visited the area and submitted their report indicating the pollution caused by the tanneries. It was reported that the entire Ambur town and the villages situated nearby did not have good drinking water. During rainy days and floods, the chemicals deposited into the river bed were spreading out quickly. The State Government also informed the Court about the 59 villages that were affected by the tanneries. In those villages, there was acute shortage of drinking water. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board also submitted that their Board perusuated for the last 10 years to control the pollution generated by these tanneries. These tanneries were given option by the Board that either to construct common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) for a cluster of industries or to setup individual pollution control devices. The Central Government were earlier agreed to give substantial subsidies for the construction of CEPTs. The Hon’ble Court observed that it was pity that till date most of the tanneries operating in the State of Tamil Nadu did not take any step to control the pollution caused by the discharge of effluent. On the direction of the Hon’ble Court, the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute also submitted the feasibility report for setting up of CETPs for clusters of tanneries situated at different places in the State. The NEERI, the Tamil Nadu Board and Central Board visited the tanning units and other industries in the Tamil Nadu and submitted their reports.
The Hon’ble Court observed that the leather industry was of vital importance to the country as it generated foreign exchange and provided employment avenues. But, it had no right to destroy the ecology, degrade the environment and cause a health hazard. It could not be permitted to expend or even to continue with the present production unless appropriate action taken by the industry itself. The traditional concept that development and ecology are opposed to each other is no longer acceptable. "Sustainable Development" would be the answer. The "Sustainable Development" has been accepted as a viable concept to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of human life. While living within the carrying capacity of the supporting eco-systems. "Sustainable development" means development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs. The "Sustainable Development" has come to be accepted as a viable concept to eradicate poverty and improve the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of the supporting eco-system. The"Precautionary Principle" and the "The Polluter Pays Principle" were the essential features of "Sustainable Development".
The Hon’ble Court on 28.8.1996 directed the Central Government to constitute an Authority under section 3(3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and to confer on the Authority all the powers necessary to deal with the tanneries and other polluting industries in the State of Tamil Nadu. The authority so constituted would invoke the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. The Authority should determine the compensation to be recovered from the polluters as cost of reversing the damaged environment. The Authority should direct the closure of the industry owned/managed by a polluter in case he evades or refuses to pay the compensation awarded against him. A fine of Rs.10,000/- each on all the tanneries in the districts of North Arcot, Ambedkar, Erode Periyar, Dindigul Anna, Trichi and Chengai M.G.R. was imposed. The said fine was directed to be paid before 31.10.1996. The Chief Justice of the Madras High Court was requested to constitute a special bench "Green Bench" to further monitor this case.
The Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India constituted the Loss of Ecology (Prevention and Payments of Compensation) Authority in the year 1996 and appointed Mr. Justice P.Bhaskaran, as its Chairman. The Authority after detailed studies and deliberations delivered its award on March 12, 2002. Accordingly, 546 tanneries in the District of Vellore to pay a compensation amounting to Rs.26.82 crores to 29,193 families as pollution damages.
The Central Board has also analysed the soil, sludge and water samples concerning this matter. The indepth investigations were taken up and reports were submitted to the Hon’ble Supreme Court for consideration.