The National Green Tribunal has junked a plea filed by a company seeking review of its order directing payment of compensation for displacing people, after a huge fire caused by a boiler blast at Dahej in Bharuch district of Gujarat on June 3 resulted in the death of eight workers.
The NGT had on June 8 slapped a penalty of Rs 25 crore on Yashashvi Rasayan Pvt Ltd and asked it to pay Rs 25,000 per person for displacement.
It said there is no merit in the prayer of the company seeking review and that its order was passed after hearing the parties, and not based on media reports alone.
"The facts mentioned in the order remained undisputed after opportunity to the applicant before passing interim order, pending giving further opportunity in due course. The order is not based on media report alone, as wrongly submitted. The order was passed after preliminary verification of facts and after notice to the present applicant.
"Even now, neither the incident is disputed nor lack of adequate safeguards as per statutory mandate are disputed. Statutory onsite and offsite plans and their compliance are not shown. Liability of the applicant is absolute and compensation payable has to be deterrent," the bench said.
The tribunal said it is wrong to assume that there is no liability for displacement for 10-12 hours.
"It is also wrongly assumed that nothing is to be spent for restoration of the environment. The applicant has filed a certificate from Panchayat that the displaced persons were brought back to their residence late night.
"While authenticity of the certificate is yet to be examined, the affected persons certainly faced trauma, stress and inconvenience in being displaced from their respective houses on account of hazardous activities of the unit in question for which liability cannot be disowned," the bench said.
The green panel said the incident took place at 12 noon and displacement at least till late night for at least 10-12 hours, even as per the company.
"During this period, the affected persons faced trauma, displacement from their houses and all consequential problems. It is too much to contend that they are not to be paid any compensation and such displacement does not cause any physical or mental harm to a person.
"In our view, such displacement is certainly actionable wrong and any commercial establishment engaged in hazardous activity for commercial purpose is certainly liable to compensate such displaced persons. Displacement was at large-scale creating anxiety, fear, trauma, and misery," the tribunal said.
It said some families may have minor children or senior citizens, females who certainly are bound to greatly suffer by such large scale and sudden displacement from their houses.
"Exact damage is to be fully ascertained but even as per conservative estimate, the amount of compensation of Rs 25,000 to each displaced person cannot, be held to be excessive, even on further consideration," the tribunal said.
"There is no golden scale to measure such loss and a reasonable estimate has to be the basis. Moreover, the applicant does not deserve any indulgence as it has not moved this Tribunal with clean hands," the NGT said.
It said the plea filed by the company is patently absurd as the order clearly and specifically required deposit even if the amount was not to be disbursed.
The green panel said it has gone by conservative estimate and liability of the applicant is expected to be more than the said amount.
It is against the interest of justice to further delay deposit and disbursement of the amount to the victims of the tragedy as almost two months have passed from the date of the incident, the NGT said.
The NGT also constituted a six-member committee headed by former High Court judge Justice B C Patel and sought a report in a month.
The committee also comprises representatives of environment ministry, Central Pollution Control Board, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, National Institute of Disaster Management and Head of the Chemical Engineering Department of IIT Gandhinagar.
The tribunal's order came on a plea filed by NGO Aryavart Foundation through its president alleging that the company failed to follow requisite precautions and safety protocols.
The NGO said the company is strictly and absolutely liable for the damage caused to the human lives, human health, property and the environment in violation of environmental norms.
At least 50 workers of the chemical factory were injured while eight died on June 3 in the fire caused by a blast in the boiler at Dahej in Bharuch district of Gujarat.
About 4,800 inhabitants of the nearby villages had to be moved to safer places on account of the incident.