The Honourable National Green Tribunal (NGT) of India, constituted under the NGT Act of 2010, bases all its directions and judgements on three basic tenets:
- Sustainable development
- Precautionary principle
- Polluter pays
These tenets are considered the bedrock of jurisprudence in cases relating to the environment. I have absolutely no quarrel with any of these guiding principles. I have a question, however, on how the Hon. NGT defines and decides who the real polluter is, in case of dysfunctional sewage treatment plants (STPs) in apartments. Based on NGT’s directions, the State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has been issuing notices to apartments for running apparently-faulty STPs, and asking them to pay lakhs as environmental compensation.
It goes without saying that the source of pollution – the real polluter, the culprit if you will – is the STP itself. This is a no-brainer. Then the question is, who is responsible and to be made accountable for a defective, defunct STP.
Let us, therefore, delve deeper into the antecedents of the STP – the janam kundli of this poor thing.
Who sets up the STP?
The STP is first conceived by a less-than competent plumbing consultant, who is appointed by an architect. The architect would have been roped in by the developer to only get the necessary environmental clearances from government agencies. Quality, performance or longevity of the STP are not of prime concern here.
The plumbing consultant gets the STP design from his favoured vendor, with whom he shares a cosy relationship. And the final link in giving birth to the polluting STP – the midwife – is the government agency which approves the defective technology, design and engineering of the STP.
Therefore, in the chain of events leading to a polluting STP, the following players have crucial role:
- The plumbing consultant who designed the STP in collaboration with his favoured vendor
- The vendor who in turn foists a mediocre STP on the plumbing consultant
- The architect who appointed them both without background verification or due diligence
- The builder who appointed the architect without verification or due diligence as well
- The government agency which approves the faulty STP scheme
What chance does the STP have in the hands of these parties with widely varying interests and agenda?
Please note that all the parties above have made money during this process – the consultant and architect his fees, the STP vendor his price; the builder who recovers his price from innocent buyers; the government agency that charges hefty fees for issuing CFE (Consent for Establishment) for the STP. In addition, BWSSB (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board) levies high pro-rata charges for giving sanitary connections to apartments, though the latter are not allowed to discharge into the city’s sewerage network.
At the very end of this chain is the common citizen, who has paid a huge sum to buy his apartment. He’s now left holding the baby – the polluting STP.
NGT must hold real polluters responsible
This is not a one-time affair that the five agencies (mentioned earlier) may be pardoned, citing lack of knowledge, education or experience. It happens repeatedly, with the same set of players. They don’t want to learn from past mistakes and continue to foist defective STPs.
Clearly, these agencies, who have made money out of STPs, are the real polluters, and must be held accountable for defective STPs. I believe I am fairly well-qualified to propound my views on this subject, having been nominated a ‘subject expert on wastewater management’ in the Monitoring Cell constituted by the KSPCB under Hon. NGT’s directions.
These five agencies certainly cannot claim to be innocent bystanders because their STPs have failed repeatedly. In fact, as per the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, KSPCB would have legal liability for dysfunctional STPs.
Hon. NGT must hold these agencies as the prime polluters and recover environmental compensation from them. NGT must also apply the first principle of natural justice – the Doctrine of Bias (no man should be judge in his own case) — so that innocent citizens are not held to ransom. KSPCB is one of the culpable entities, hence it should not be the agency that decides who the polluter is and who has to pay environmental compensation.
It is unfair, unjust and simply a miscarriage of natural justice if the last person in the chain – the innocent common citizen – is held responsible and branded a polluter. He is only a victim of his circumstances. He has paid his hard-earned money to these agencies and is quite simply at the receiving end of poor and deficient service.