Prosecute officials for not acting on pollution complaints, SC tells CPCB

On October 27, union environment minister Harsh Vardhan had directed CPCB to initiate criminal proceedings against government agencies and officers failing to check sources of pollution even after being informed by the pollution control agencies.

india Updated: Nov 27, 2018 11:24 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
CPCB,SC,air quality
The maximum complaints that CPCB received on the “Sameer app were for construction and demolition activities, followed by burning of waste, road dust, traffic congestion and industrial emission. (Mohd Zakir/HT File )

The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to initiate prosecution of government officials who have not penalised polluters against whom it received complaints. A bench of justices MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta issued the directive after CPCB informed it that the board has taken the first step towards prosecuting such officials and issued show-cause notices to them.

Under environment protection law, a criminal case can be registered against erring government servants who do not comply with CPCB directions. The maximum jail term for this offence is for six months.

Additional solicitor general AS Nadkarni, appearing for CPCB, placed an affidavit before the court, giving the number of complaints it has received on its Facebook page, phone app, Twitter handle and e-mail. He said from November 1 to November 22 the board received 749 complaints -- 479 on Twitter, 65 on Facebook and 205 through e-mails. CPCB addressed around 500 complaints using 52 teams and sent the rest to various government departments with directions under the law to resolve them. Show cause notices were issued to them indicating the intent to initiate criminal prosecution for their failure to control air-pollution, Nadkarni submitted.

Similarly out of 3,337 complaints received on the “Sameer app” 923 complaints were resolved, 1,248 complaints are being attended to, 349 complaints are under investigation and 817 complaints are yet to be addressed. agencies.

On October 27, union environment minister Harsh Vardhan directed CPCB to initiate criminal proceedings against government agencies and officers failing to check sources of pollution even after being informed by the pollution control agencies.

Nadkarni urged the court to direct authorities to take action or face contempt. The requirement for such a direction was justified by Nadkarni on the ground that a trial under the normal course would take years to culminate. “By then the erring officer might retire. If we need to really help Delhi, I would request this court to direct the nodal agencies to comply with your direction,” Nadkarni submitted.

However, the court refused to pass such a direction and said it cannot “micro-manage the issue.” “No, we will simply say prosecute them,” Justice Lokur said. Advocate Aparajita Singh, assisting the court said, there should a fear of law and criminal prosecution must be launched against the officers who do not follow the directions.

HT reported on October 28 that less than 5% of the complaints received in Delhi on the Sameer app between September 15 and October 15 were addressed.

The maximum complaints with CPCB were for construction and demolition activities, followed by burning of waste, road dust, traffic congestion and industrial emission.

The joint-inspection teams comprising officials from the union government, Delhi government and civic bodies which were sent out between November 1 and November 10 also reported several violations. Even though construction activities were banned during that 10-day period, the highest number of violations pertained to this.

CPCB started its services for receiving complaints on various social media platforms on October 31, subsequent to the top court’s direction.

“The CPCB is primarily a standard setting body. It is the state pollution control boards that need to initiate criminal proceedings against agencies who fail to control pollution. The SC-appointed body EPCA can also initiate such actions in Delh-NCR. But in reality everyone is passing the buck and nothing really is happening apart from issuing a few warnings to the defaulters,” said Ritwick Dutta, environment lawyer.

Labelling actions taken by government agencies to curb pollution in Delhi-NCR as “grossly inadequate”, CPCB has already sent notices to construction agencies, civic bodies and land holding agencies, warning them of criminal proceedings if they fail to take actions against polluting sources, despite being informed.

Notices were also sent to the police commissioners and district magistrates of Delhi and NCR towns for not restricting the sale and use of conventional firecrackers during Diwali despite a ban on them.

First Published: Nov 27, 2018 11:24 IST