Government asked to stop illegal waste oil trade
Taking note of the unscrupulous traders in the garb of importing used oil or furnace oil, in fact, import waste oil which is a banned item in India, Supreme Court directed the government today to evolve a guideline to stop the menace of waste oil in the country.
The Court has asked Gopal Subramaniam, the Additional Solicitor General to give a comprehensive note on the issue in consultation with Sanjay Parikh, the counsel for the petitioner. It was noted that Prof. MGK Menon Committee recommendations that dealt with the issue of waste oil/used oil and the same were accepted the court by the court. “Pursuant to the directions of this Court .and the affidavits filed on behalf of Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India…prima facie it seems that 15 importers, whose names and addresses are given…,(who) illegally imported waste oil in 133 containers in the garb of lubricating oil.”
Waste oil is a hazardous waste that is defined by the court as, “Hazardous Wastes are highly toxic in nature. The industrialization has had the effect of generation of huge quantities of hazardous wastes. These and other side effects of development gave birth to principles of sustainable development so as to sustain industrial growth. The hazardous waste required adequate and proper control and handling. Efforts are required to be made to minimise it. In developing nations, there are additional problems including that of dumping of hazardous waste on their lands by some of the nations where cost of destruction of such waste is felt very heavy.” The Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes has submitted its final report on the general issue of stopping of illegal import of waste oil/used oil. The Court observed that all these aspects will be taken care of in the note of Additional Solicitor General.
Additional Solicitor General mentioned that an application for clarification in the ship-breaking/Blue Lady matter regarding 6th September, 2007 and 11th September, 2007 has been received. In the application it has also been submitted that despite the court’s order specifically directing vide order dated 15.5.2007 that “Without claiming any equities, the ship breaking unit shall be permitted to remove oil from the ship under the supervision and guidance of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Maritime Board”, the same has been violated in toto and in complete contempt of Court’s directions. The said waste oil has been sold. A strict view has to be taken of such conduct waste oil being removed from the ship and sold. The court observed that the matter would be taken up on the next date hearing.
The Division Bench Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia pointed out that there are three issues that are relevant here:
1) Realisation of the cost of the incineration/disposal from those who illegally imported waste oil. This is part of the 133 containers, which were directed to be incinerated pursuant to the court’s order of 2005.
2) The condition of 209 containers of waste oil that is lying at the Indian coast for nearly a decade has turned quite bad and there is leakage from the damaged containers. This is contaminating the coastal environment.
Mr Subba Rao, counsel for the Customs stated that nobody is coming forward to claim these containers. Therefore, they have to be disposed off and the cost of disposal should be recovered from the importers who brought these toxic containers in the country with impunity. The court observed that orders on this matter will be passed after four weeks.
3) Under MARPOL Convention, the foreign ships on journey change oil on the Indian coast. The oil that is taken out from the ships is contaminated and therefore, their quantity has to be assessed. And it has to be disposed off or recycled as the case may be. At present, this activity is unregulated. The entire operation is required to be done under the control and supervision of State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBS), State Maritime Boards and Custom authorities.
However, it is shocking that notwithstanding the orders of the court and its continuous monitoring, the Ministry of Environment has issued a notification amending the Hazardous Waste Rules to provide for such illegal imports although they are banned under Basel Convention and Prof Menon Committee’s recommendations.
Raj Panjwani, counsel for SCMC and Mr Parikh pointed out that monitoring of the court’s order is necessary bu the Ministry of Environment has made the SCMC non-functional without the court’s permission. The SCMC was formed on 14th October, 2003 as part of the Supreme Court's landmark order in the Writ Petition (Civil) 657 of 1995 where Government of India is a respondent. The SCMC's chairman has requested the court to relieve him since according to him SCMC's work is over and now Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) itself can look after the issue. The conflict of interest in the SCMC is once again manifest. The issue in question is the irresponsible manner in which MoEF has conducted itself with regard to the management of hazardous wastes. What has not been noted so far is that the culprits (MoEF) themselves who are to be probed by the committee constituted the committee.
The need is not to disband the SCMC but to reorganise it with non governmental committee of high public standing with a reputation of pay heed to public concerns as a citizen's vigilance committee. Currently, it does not ensure accountability. Given the fact that it is a case involving Worker's safety, public health and environment, there ought to be transparency, fairness and public access to all relevant information. Officials of Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) who are respondents in the case, had been taken over the committee. Without court’s permission G. Thyagarajan, Chairman of the SCMC, has taken up other assignments in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) although its clear from the court’s order that SCMC’s work is far from over.
MoEF has violated the Rules of Natural Justice that applies to all administrative bodies and tribunals because no one can be judge in his/her own cause. It is also required to make an independent judgment on the application of the law, and is not subject to directions when making a decision. Now that the final reports of the government appointed members of SCMC and court appointed members of SCMC has been submitted, the SCMC should be reconstituted to monitor and stop ongoing hazardous waste trade.