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SC stays NGT order directing Rajasthan to pay Rs 3,000 cr as environmental compensation

New Delhi: In a major relief to the Rajasthan government, the Supreme Court on Friday stayed the National Green Tribunal’s order directing it to pay Rs 3,000 crore as environmental compensation for alleged improper management of solid and liquid waste in the state.

A bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha took note of the submissions of senior advocate Manish Singhvi, appearing for the Rajasthan government, and stayed the operation of the tribunal’s September 15 order.

“The order shall not be construed as obviating the duty of the state to comply with all other directions and to report compliance to the tribunal,” it said.

Singhvi, during the brief hearing, said Rajasthan has taken steps in this regard.

“That the present statutory civil appeal is being filed… against the interim order dated September 15, 2022, passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT)… in original application… whereby the learned NGT in the impugned order has stated that total Rs 3,000 crore as compensation has to be deposited by the state government in a separate ‘ring fenced’ account under the chief secretary which shall be used for restoration measures,” the plea said.

The state government, in its plea, sought setting aside the interim order.

In its order, the NGT had held state authorities accountable for contributing to pollution and failing in their constitutional duties.

“As timelines for preventing water pollution and solid waste management, in pursuance of Supreme Court orders and earlier orders of the tribunal, had lapsed, the ‘polluter pays’ principle had to be applied from the date of January 1, 2021, and the compensation had to be equal to the loss to the environment and the cost of remediation,” the NGT had said.

Continuing damage is required to be prevented in the future and past damage is to be restored, the green panel had said.

It had determined the compensation for the gap in the treatment of liquid waste or sewage for 1,250 million litres per day (MLD) as Rs 2,500 crore.

“The total compensation under the head of the failure to scientifically manage solid waste works out to Rs 555 crores,” it had said.

The NGT had said the total compensation is rounded off at Rs 3,000 crore.

The amount can be deposited by Rajasthan in a separate ring-fenced account within two months and it will be operated according to directions of the chief secretary, and utilised for restoration measures, it had said.

The restoration measures concerning sewage management would include setting up sewage treatment and utilisation systems, and upgrading systems or operations of existing sewage treatment facilities to ensure utilisation of their full capacities, the tribunal had said.

For solid waste management, the execution plan would include setting up of required waste processing plants and remediation of 161 sites along with the execution of the bio-remediation process according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) guidelines, the NGT had said.

The NGT had said both restoration plans required to be immediately executed across the state in a time-bound manner and if violations continued, liability to pay additional compensation would be considered.

Compliance will be the responsibility of the chief secretary, it had said, adding that further, six monthly progress reports with verifiable progress may be filed by the chief secretary with a copy to the tribunal’s registrar general.

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