The National Green Tribunal (NGT) Tuesday fined the state government Rs 5 crore for failing to comply with its two-year-old directive to combat air pollution in Kolkata and Howrah.
A principal bench comprising judicial members Adarsh Goel and SP Wangdi and non-judicial member Nagin Nanda said the environmental compensation has been levied under Section 20 of the NGT Act and has to be paid to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) within two weeks, failing which NGT will levy a fine of Rs 1 crore for each month the payment is delayed. The bench has summoned the chief secretary to appear before it on January 8, 2019.
In 2016, the tribunal’s expert committee had submitted a report with a series of recommendations to counter increasing air pollution levels in the city. The recommendations focused on vehicular pollution and included augmentation of the air monitoring network, scrapping of commercial vehicles 15 years old or above, streamlining the traffic system to minimise congestion, streamlining auto emission testing centres, and stopping the burning of waste in the open, among others.
“We are living in a gas chamber. The problem is that transport in these cities contributes to the highest quantum of air pollution, and when the transport and environment portfolios are held by the same minister, as is the case in West Bengal, there is a conflict of interest. There is no political mandate in the state to protect its citizens against environmental health hazards. Despite the fact that the air pollution in Kolkata has been detected to be higher than Delhi, the pollution control board is silent,” petitioner and environmental activist Subhash Datta told The Indian Express.
The NGT order comes a day after the Supreme Court directed CPCB to prosecute government officials who fail to take action against polluters under Section 15 of the Environment Pollution Act, which provides for a jail term of up to five years.
The green court had also directed the state to explore better mechanisms for conversion of commercial vehicles from traditional fuels like petrol/diesel to CNG. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment, released in Kolkata earlier this year, found the city to be plying the largest number of commercial diesel vehicles in the country — it referred to the city as the “diesel capital of India”.
“Air pollution is the primary responsibility of the state PCB. But it is silent,” said the tribunal.