Apex environment adjudication body NGT handled disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues relating to air and water pollution through a smooth digital workflow despite the novel coronavirus pandemic this year resulting in a nationwide lockdown.
The National Green Tribunal, though working with a handful of Judicial and Expert Members, that too via video conferencing, made its presence felt in 2020 by dealing with various sensitive issues related to environment and ecology.
Before the lockdown, Chief Secretaries of 15 states and three Union Territories participated in Chamber meetings on compliance issues relating to waste management, sewage treatment, air quality management in 122 non-attainment cities, rejuvenation of 351 polluted river stretches and regulation of sand mining.
The tribunal also dealt with several thorny cases through the year including coastal pollution, restoration of water bodies, industrial wastewater and sewage treatment, noise pollution, protecting environment along the highways, compliance of environmental norms by restaurants/hotels, regulation and control of pet coke use and guidelines for dairy stock rearing.
Besides, it passed several path-breaking orders and cleared many pending projects such as Subansiri Hydroelectric Power, Mumbai Trans Corridor, Alang Ship Breaking activities, Pollavaram Lift Irrigation Scheme and Kutchh Camel, balancing growth and environment.
As of November, the NGT, which marked 10th year of its establishment, had 5,073 matters to deal while it disposed of 2,372 cases leaving 2,701 for consideration, with 943 lying undecided at the principal bench at New Delhi.
As the country went into the lockdown, the tribunal, headed by Chairperson justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, expressed dissatisfaction over the slow progress and lackadaisical approach of authorities and government agencies on key issues relating to public health and hygiene and emphasised on recovering compensation from polluters.
The year also saw the tribunal taking an unprecedented stand on banning use of firecrackers during festive period in National Capital Region (NCR) and in those cities where air quality fell in poor category.
Besides, noting that dust is a significant component of air pollution, the NGT directed all municipal corporations and local bodies in the NCR and other cities where air quality is ''poor'' to ensure that water is sprinkled on roads before sweeping them.
The tribunal took cognisance of gas leak incidents in Andhra Pradesh as also the fire in Assam's Baghjan oil well and observed that such disasters occurred on account of mishandling of operations, lack of skilled supervision and unprepared system to deal eventualities.
Holding that public-oriented schemes do require environment clearance, the NGT passed direction on such requirement for Purushothapatanam Lift Irrigation Scheme, Andhra Pradesh, which involved lifting of water from river Godavari.
Noting that air pollution kills millions of people every year, the tribunal asked brick kilns, which emit particulate matter, to adopt the environment-friendly zig-zag technology. It got an assessment done through CPCB by finding out the ambient air quality and carrying capacity.
The green panel slammed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for non-utilisation of over Rs 800 crore meant towards Environment Relief Fund for victims of accidents in the process of handling hazardous substances and directed that compensation needs to be provided to them on urgent basis through District Collectors.
The NGT also took note that the Covid-19 related biomedical waste in the country is about 101 tonne per day, and said that segregation of this waste from others is a must to avoid further contamination adversely affecting public health.
During the latter part of the year, the tribunal dealt with the issue of protecting endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB) which has been facing fatalities on account transmission lines. The NGT directed that bird diverters be installed and transmission lines may be put underground.
The NGT said rivers in states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka were being unscrupulously exploited for sand mining without any regard for the environment and ordered that such projects be executed with due caution in accordance with mining plan.
On the issue of groundwater extraction, the NGT said that water withdrawal cannot be at the cost of the environment and ignoring intra and inter-generational, sustainable development principles.