On Saturday, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) admonished the West Bengal government for putting the people’s health at risk by failing to handle solid and liquid waste generated in the state and issued a Rs 3,500 crore penalty for the enormous gap in solid and liquid waste generation and treatment.
The directive was issued after NGT monitored state and union territory compliance with the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, and other environmental issues.
The green panel stated that the state government does not appear to prioritise the installation of sewage and solid waste management facilities, despite the fact that the state budget for 2022-2023 includes a provision of Rs 12,818.99 crore for Urban Development and Municipal Affairs.
Observing that health issues cannot be deferred indefinitely, a bench led by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel said that it is the constitutional responsibility of the state and local municipal authorities to maintain a pollution-free environment.
West Bengal government cannot use lack of funds as an excuse to deprive the citizens of their basic human rights: NGT
The NGT highlighted that, despite a sewage generation capacity of 2,758 million litres per day in West Bengal’s metropolitan areas and a treatment capacity of 1505.85 MLD (by establishing 44 STPs), only 1268 MLD is reported to be treated, leaving a huge gap of 1490 MLD.
Coming down hard at the state government, the tribunal stated that the government cannot use lack of funds as an excuse to deprive the citizens of their basic human rights, which it said is the “absolute liability of the state”.
While there may be no objection to any central funds being availed, the state cannot avoid its responsibility or delay its discharge on that pretext, it said.
“Considering the damage to the recipient environment, we hold that apart from ensuring compliance at the earliest, compensation has to be paid by the state for past violations,” it said.
“Final amount of compensation under the two heads (solid and liquid waste) is assessed at Rs. 3,500 crores which may be deposited by the state of West Bengal in a separate ring-fenced account within two months,” the bench said, adding that if the violations continue, the state will be liable to pay additional compensation.
“Compliance with environmental norms on the subject of waste management has to be a high priority. Tribunal has come across cases of serious neglect and continuing damage to the environment in absence of inadequate steps for treatment of solid and liquid waste.”
“We are of the view that issues have been identified and monitored by the tribunal for a long time. It is high time that the state realises its duty to the law and to citizens and adopts further monitoring at its own level,” the bench said.