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Vizag Gas Leak Case: MoEF Panel to Consider LG Polymers' Green Clearance Plea after NGT, HC Rulings

File photo of firefighters outside the LG Polymers in Vizag. (PTI)

File photo of firefighters outside the LG Polymers in Vizag. (PTI)

The expert panel said that even as the application was for the expansion of plant’s capacity from 415 TPD to 655 TPD, it would only take up the clearance for the existing operation, which was functional without environmental clearance.

LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd.’s Polystyrene and Expandable Polystyrene plant in Vizag where a styrene gas leak killed 12 people last month will not be considered for green clearance until there is an outcome of the cases going on against the company at the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Andhra Pradesh High Court.

The Union Environment Ministry’s expert panel that appraises projects involving violations of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, took up the project for appraisal on May 18 and decided to defer the proposal.

The company had applied for green clearance with the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority in April 2018. However, the project file was transferred to the Union ministry in January 2020 and the Centre had received the proposal on March 17, minutes of the expert panel meeting showed.

The expert panel said that even as the application was for the expansion of plant’s capacity from 415 tonnes per day to 655 tonnes per day, it would only take up the clearance for the existing 415 tonnes per day operation, which was functional without prior environmental clearance.

The expert panel also noted that the company had changed product mix in the existing plant without environmental clearance.

“The committee after detailed deliberations and thorough examination of the proposal apart from considering the above facts, recommends the instant proposal to be deferred till the outcome of Hon’ble NGT, Hon’ble High Court of AP and reports of Committees constituted by NGT, MOEFCC, Gov. of AP, NDRF, CPCB, NDMA and NEERI is made available to the committee for facilitating proper appraisal of the project which will be restricted to existing production capacity (415 TPD) as mentioned above being operated without prior EC,” read the minutes of the expert panel’s meeting that have been made public.

The EIA notification of 2006 mandates companies to obtain an environmental clearance (EC) before operations begin. An EC is also required if expansion or change in product mixed is planned.

The company had applied for an EC under the ‘project violations’ category. The Union Environment Ministry had created this special category in March 2017 after issuing a notification.

A one-time amnesty window was provided for projects across various sectors which had not obtained ‘prior environmental clearance’ at the time of commencing work.

A government release on the one-time window had said that this was being done to bring projects and activities in compliance with environmental laws, rather than leaving them unregulated and unchecked which will be more damaging to the environment.

Following the styrene leak, the NGT took suo moto cognisance of the incident and bench, headed by Chairperson Justice Adarsh Goel, ordered the company to pay Rs 50 crore to the district collector of Vizag.

It also formed an expert committee headed by former judge of Andhra Pradesh High Court Justice B Seshasayana Reddy to look into the matter.

In its interim report submitted to NGT, the committee said the styrene gas leak happened due to insufficient Tertiary Butyl Catechol, which is used as an inhibitor to avoid polymerisation at lower temperatures.

The storage tank of styrene had no provision to monitor temperatures at top layers of the storage and the accident happened due to human failure and negligence of person in-charge of plant and maintenance personnel of storage tanks.