NGT pulls up NHAI for dumping muck in Chenab River

The National Green Tribunal has pulled up the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and its contractors for dumping muck in Chenab River in the course of four laning of Udhampur to Banihal national highway in Jammu and Kashmir and asked the state pollution control board to take coercive measures.

A bench of NGT Chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel noted, “State PCB may accordingly proceed with coercive measures,

including assessment and recovery of compensation for the damage and initiating prosecution against the violators of environmental norms, following the due process of law.” The matter will now be taken up on March 31, 2021.

The order came on two inspection reports filed by the Divisional Officer of the Pollution Control Board on the status of the muck dumping on July 31 and September 17. The report stated that the muck dumping in almost all sites was found done in an un-scientific manner and without proper compaction and terracing.

On consideration of the inspection reports, the monitoring committee, headed by a former Judge of the High Court, observed that there was failure in preparing and maintaining designated dumping sites.

“The debris excavated in the widening process has been found unscientifically dumped down the hill slopes into the seasonal nallas and rivulets. The dumping sites were overflowing and not properly maintained. NHAI failed to exercise supervisory control,” the committee noticed.

The report filed by the PCB recommended that Project Director of NHAI-Ramban, Project Managers of Gammon Engineers and Contractors Private Limited, Hindustan Construction Company Limited and Choudhary Power Projects Private Limited be prosecuted under Environment (Protection) Act for non-compliance of conditions of Environmental Clearance and directly dumping muck in Chenab River.

During the proceedings, the counsel for the NHAI did not dispute the report of the monitoring committee but submitted that on its part the NHAI has instructed the contractors for taking remedial action. Counsels for NHAI’s contactors — Gammon India Limited and Hindustan Construction Corporation Limited — reasoned that the area is prone to landslides and default on the part of the government in not giving additional space.

To this, NGT pulled up NHAI and said, “NHAI cannot be rest content by simply saying that it has asked the contractors to take remedial action. Responsibility of NHAI to maintain environmental norms remains. The contractors are agencies of the NHAI, for which the NHAI also remains responsible. There is no bar against the NHAI from substituting its contractors violating the law by the compliant ones.”

In 2019, the NGT directed Gammon India Limited and Hindustan Construction Corporation Limited — to pay interim compensation for damage to the extent of Rs 1 crore each. The same was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

The Green Tribunal had also directed Gammon India Limited and Hindustan Construction Corporation Limited to furnish performance guarantee of Rs 2 crore each and NHAI to furnish performance guarantee of Rs 1 crore for remedying the situation.