The Telegraph
Wednesday , July 23 , 2014
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Tribunal eye on Meghalaya pollution

- State chief secretary, civic board & health department officials issued notices

Shillong, July 22: Meghalaya has come under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) again, just months after the tribunal had banned “rat-hole” coal mining in the state.

Yesterday, the tribunal’s eastern zone bench, Calcutta, issued notices to Meghalaya chief secretary and the secretaries of the municipal board and health department in relation to the air and water pollution in the state as reported by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG) in its report for March 31, 2011.

The bench comprised Justice P. Jyothimani, judicial member and P.C. Mishra, expert member. The case’s original application is No. 42 (THC)/2014/PB/5/EZ under “Environment Pollution and Health Hazard in the State Vs State of Meghalaya and Others”.

A comprehensive account on pollution control and waste management in the state, which reflected in the CAG report, pointed out that Meghalaya, in general, and Shillong in particular, are no longer clean.

“The ambient air quality of the city, in particular, and the state, in general, is far from satisfactory mainly because of emission of air pollutants from automobiles,” the CAG report said.

Apart from the unsatisfactory air quality, the report also divulged that water was found to be “unfit for drinking” in 28 of 31 water bodies of six districts in the state.

The then Shillong bench of Gauhati High Court had taken suo moto action on the report in March 2012. The case was subsequently transferred to the tribunal.

In its order yesterday, the tribunal stated that one of the respondents to the case had filed its reply along with the reports of water quality and air quality for the year 2012-13 and upto March 2014.

“However, he has not chosen to state the number of industries, which are situated in Meghalaya, number of red category industries discharging wastewater into water bodies and air emission causing pollution, apart from the steps taken by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board against those industries and the consequential compliance,” the tribunal stated.

Moreover, the tribunal stated that there was no report on the status of sewage treatment facilities available in the urban centres to treat waste water discharged by municipalities. “For the present, we restrict in relation to the industries situated in the urban areas and in respect to air and water pollution.”

The Meghalaya chief secretary, P.B.O. Warjri, was asked by the tribunal to depute one of the officials on the next date of hearing failing which “coercive action” would be taken.

Further, the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board was asked to file its latest status report on August 26, the next date of the hearing.

The CAG had come down heavily on the pollution control board for its inability to conduct regular monitoring of water bodies.

The report had mentioned that the lack of waste processing facilities in four municipal boards or scientific landfills in all the six municipal boards resulted in open dumping of mixed waste that could lead to environmental pollution.

In violation of the Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 139 of 178 health institutions in the state were functioning without authorisation from the board, the report said. It also said the board had failed to ensure segregation, labelling, colour coding and disposal of biomedical waste in accordance with prescribed rules.

Quoting the board on air pollution, the report said, “There was an increase in the concentration of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) levels, which were mainly because of the emission of pollutant from automobiles.”

It said the extent of air pollution caused by 481 industries was not monitored by the board. Besides, coal mining activities were being carried out in the state without any authorisation.

But the most worrying factor, according to the CAG report, was the impact of air and water pollution on human health. “Scrutiny of statistical data furnished in July 2011 by the director of health services from 2006 to 2010 revealed that 2.27 lakh to 3.54 lakh patients treated in the state during the period suffered from diseases like bronchitis, acute upper respiratory infection, pulmonary tuberculosis, whooping cough and others caused by air pollution,” it said.

Similarly, the report said the number of patients in the state suffering from water-borne diseases like dysentery, cholera and others during 2006-2010 was between 1.42 lakh and 2.03 lakh.

“Since these diseases are caused by water-borne bacteria, the basic causes of these diseases can be linked to pollution of drinking water by contamination from sewage and surface water polluted with human excreta and other impurities,” the report said.

On the adverse impact of air and water pollution on human health, the report said, “This situation was indicative of the failure of the various agencies of the state who were charged with the mandate of monitoring, controlling and management of air, water and waste pollution in Meghalaya.”