The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to continuously monitor the air, including for toxic gases, of the units in SIPCOT, Cuddalore, and take suitable legal action against any defaulting unit.
A Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and R.Subbiah was disposing of a writ petition by the Member-Secretary, Tamil Nadu State Legal Services Authority. A news item in The Hindu on September 21, 2004, under the headline “Villages in Cuddalore industrial estate toxic hot spot,” was ordered to be taken as a writ petition by the then Chief Justice.
In the petition, a direction was sought to the authorities to provide safety levels to villagers around the SIPCOT Industrial Estate near Cuddalore town by constantly monitoring the air, implement an air pollution programme and long-term health monitoring of residents. The report said that 20,000 residents of 10 villages and several hamlets around the over-two-decade-old SIPCOT industrial estate were exposed to high levels of 22 volatile organic compounds, including eight cancer causing ones, mostly released by factories on the complex.
The Bench said there was force in the contentions by some of the industrial units that they alone could not be blamed for the pollution. This was because there were several additional factors such as burning of garbage and vehicular traffic.
The court said in the absence of any technical data provided by NEERI or TNPCB to distinguish the pollution because of units or other factors, it was unable to either justify or reject the units’ contention. However, being a statutory body, the burden lies on TNPCB and also the Central Pollution Control Board to take steps to combat pollution.
Material had been placed before the court by some of the units that their emissions were within the prescribed limits and that no legal action had been initiated against them by the authorities concerned. The Bench appreciated such units.
It directed the TNPCB to monitor the air continuously, including toxic gases from industries. If any violation was noticed, it should take necessary legal action against the errant units.