NGT restrains steel pickling units from operating in residential areas; quashes Delhi government’s review petition

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New Delhi, July 24, 2019: Dismissing review pleas by the Delhi government and the steel pickling industry located in Wazirpur Industrial Area, NGT (National Green Tribunal) has refused to allow the polluting pickling facilities from operating in the residential areas of Delhi. The Tribunal based its decision on the fact that, under the Master Plan 2021, steel pickling units fall under prohibited industrial activities within Delhi NCR.

Since the prohibited list under the Master Plan 2021 did not undergo any change, the NGT said that the Delhi government had no power to permit steel pickling activities. It also said that the residential areas were polluted due to generation of huge amounts of hazardous wastes, which was not being scientifically disposed. This pollution is detrimental to public health and has been harming the environment, including the Yamuna river.

NGT directed an expert committee, comprising representatives from the Central Pollution Control Board, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, and IIT Roorkee, to assess the extent of damage to the environment from June 27, 2008 – five years before the filing of the plea seeking closure of these units by All India Lokadhikar Sangathan.

The regulatory authorities have been directed to take further action in accordance with the law for recovering compensation after identifying the polluters and following the above procedure.

The Tribunal further added that the report of the expert committee may be put on the website of CPCB within three months, while suggesting that the oversight committee, headed by former judge of Delhi High Court, Justice Pratibha Rani, may furnish its final report delineating its recommendations cumulatively at one place in a tabular form, on or before October 31 2019.

The matter will be taken up on November 19, 2019 for further consideration. Earlier, the NGT had fined the Delhi government a sum of Rs 50 crore for its failure to take action against the steel pickling units in residential areas.

The order was a result of a plea filed by an NGO, the All India Lokadhikar Sangthan, seeking execution of NGT’s previous order, dated October 16, 2018, due to which the green panel had directed the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) to take appropriate action against stainless steel pickling industries in Delhi’s residential areas.

Wazirpur Industrial Area houses approximately 200 steel pickling units. These units do not carry out treatment of the waste water. The untreated harmful liquid industrial waste is released in open drains that contaminate the Yamuna river. On May 7, 2014, Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) had issued a closure notice to 112 industrial units for discharging untreated toxic waste water. These units are a major health hazard to people living in nearby areas.

Toxic gases and water released also threaten the natural ecosystem. The pickling process involves removing impurities from stainless steel by treating it with hot sulphuric acid solution. This untreated hazardous liquid contaminates both, the ground water and the soil and sub-soil in Wazirpur area. It is noteworthy that this hazardous waste is a prime cause for skin injuries and respiratory issues.

NGT took note of this case in October 2014 while considering the original application by All India Lokadhikar Sangathan. The Tribunal then noted that DPCC had been monitoring the situation and did not grant consent for steel pickling operations. Since then, these units were illegally tapping electricity and water supply, while discharging untreated effluents.

All India Lokadhikar Sangathan has been consistently fighting for the cause of a clean and pollution-free Yamuna, which has lately turned into a dumping ground for all kinds of toxic wastes from these pickling units.