The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has raised red flags over the amendment of norms for regulating discharge in the sewage treatment plants (STPs) mentioned in the environment ministry’s 2017 notification. It emphasized that the changes prescribed by the new notification will harm the quality of water. Hence, it suggested the forming of a new expert committee to recommend stringent standards.
The Expert Committee has advised a stipulated time of seven years for the up-gradation of the norms it has suggested for the STPs. However, the NGT has directed that the STP’s should apply these norms immediately “without any delay”. Moreover, these norms are not to be restricted only to mega and metro cities but to be applied in the whole country.
The Apex Court has backed this decision of the NGT against the plea of the Central government for a stay at the suggestion of up-gradation. It reprimanded the environment ministry by asking it to behave like the environment ministry pointing out it has been constantly diluting environmental standards.
The bench headed by Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud has R Subhas Reddy and S Ravindra Bhat as other members. They questioned additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, who represented the Centre, “What is the stay that you are seeking for? Should there be greater pollution? What is the harm in keeping the pollution low? Tribunal’s order has only ensured there is lesser pollution going into the water.”
Bhati speaking for the Center pointed out that the NGT did not even accept the suggestions of its committee and on the other hand directed that the STP’s should be upgraded without delay. She asserted that the process of up-gradation is a time taking procedure and the suggestions made by the government had been done after much discussion and thought.
However, the SC bench was not satisfied with the answer, it said “No. We will not stay the order. You should also protect the environment.”
Another appeal against the same order of the NGT was filed by the municipal corporation of Greater Mumbai and the SC tagged them along with.
Environmentalists in the state have not been happy about the recent norms of the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change (MoEFCC) and have been speaking up against it for quite a while. Some are even challenged in court.
On March 9, 2021, another such inquiry set by the SC for not setting up the “independent environment regulator” to oversee green clearances.
In 2011 itself it was made clear the need to set up this body for overseeing appraising projects and measuring norms for it, asserting its significance, the SC commented “identification of an area as forest area is solely based on the declaration to be filed by the user agency [project proponent].
The project proponent under the existing dispensation is required to undertake EIA by an expert body/institution”.
Till this body comes into place, the suggestion was to “prepare a panel of accredited institutions from which alone the project proponent should obtain the Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and, that too, on the Terms of Reference to be formulated by the MoEF”.
In the latest Environmental Performance Index (EPI) India’s positioning is in the last five countries. It downgraded from 141 in 2016 to 177 in 2018 out of 180 countries.
A report by DownToEarth stated that the poor ranking comes at the cost of a partially weak EIA process in India. It can dilute more by indulging in making changes in policy and practices.
“The EIA is treated more as a means to get EC than as a tool to evaluate the actual impact of the project(s) on the environment and the community.
It’s evident since project proponents have several times completed EIA studies and a detailed report in merely Rs 3 lakh. So, unsurprisingly, most of the EIA reports are lack quality.”