The Kochi Municipal Corporation has said that it will move the court against the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) ₹100 crore fine on the civic body for its failure in waste management that resulted in a 12-day-long fire at the solid waste dump yard in Brahmapuram.
The massive fire and billowing smoke which started on March 2 was finally controlled by March 14 but filled the city with toxic fumes and gas which spread across 30 km and forced over 1,400 people to seek medical aid while dozens fled.
The principal bench of the NGT headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel on Saturday pulled up the corporation and the state government for repeatedly violating the statutory solid waste management rules and orders of the Supreme Court and slapped an environmental compensation of ₹100 crore.
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However, Kochi Mayor M Anil Kumar, who on Saturday said that they will file an appeal in the court, also claimed that the civic body was only heard after imposing such a heavy penalty.
“This order will put big financial implications for the corporation. The NGT imposed its decision without hearing us or considering its implications. We will file an appeal after consulting legal experts,” he said adding it was a two-decade-long “systemic failure” and legacy waste was not a recent phenomenon.
State minister for local self-government M B Rajesh also said the government views the order seriously and will mull legal options.
In the order, NGT has passed severe strictures against the city corporation and the government. “It is difficult to understand the value of a citizen’s right to life and safety with such an attitude of neglect by government authorities. This calls for soul searching and high-level of enquiry to determine culpability in the larger public interest,” the order by the NGT read. The order, while slamming the state, also mentioned that no one has taken moral responsibility for such “gross failure of rule of law and damage to public health.”
According to the order, the amount fined under section 15 of the NGT Act should be deposited with the chief secretary within a month. The order further directed the chief secretary to fix accountability and initiate action under criminal law and departmental proceedings against officials and others responsible for the fire.
“No accountability for such serious failure has been fixed. Except for giving future plans, no fixing of accountability is proposed even now which is a matter of regret,” the order said.
Moreover, the principal bench of the NGT also initiated suo moto proceedings on the Brahmapuram issue based on media reports after the fire choked the city.
The Tribunal stated that, according to several media reports, Kochi city was choked on account of a fire at the waste dump site on March 2, 2023, which led to a crisis.
There was widespread criticism against the Kochi administration and the state government over the handling of the situation. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had earlier questioned the Kerala chief minister over his “silence” on the issue. They alleged that ministers visited the spot a week after the fire and effective intervention should have limited the damage.
Also Read: Kochi dump yard fire: Kerala CM announces three-tier inquiry
Meanwhile, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who gave a statement in the assembly on March 15, announced a three-tier inquiry into the fire incident after facing criticism over the way the government handled the inferno.
He said, besides the ongoing police investigation, the government had ordered Vigilance to investigate reasons that led to the massive inferno. He said that an expert team was also constituted to study the aftereffects of the blaze and submit recommendations for the effective treatment of waste.
The Kerala high court too has directed the state government to set up enough air quality and water testing centres on a “priority basis”. The court directed the state government to set up enough air quality and water testing centres on a priority basis and take immediate measures to check the increased use of plastic and its waste.