The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has slapped an interim penalty of Rs50 crore on LG Polymers India for causing the deadly gas leak and for failure to comply with regulations of Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board.
The NGT also sought response from the centre and others in the gas leak incident in Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, saying "there appears to be a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions".
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel has set up a 5-member committee to probe Thursday's gas leak at LG Polymers that left 13 people dead and 1,000 others exposed to poisonous gas, and submit a report before 18 May.
"Having regard to the prima facie material regarding the extent of damage to life, public health and environment, we direct LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd to forthwith deposit an initial amount of Rs 50 crore, with the district magistrate, Vishakhapatnam, which will abide by further orders of this tribunal. The amount is being fixed having regard to the financial worth of the company and the extent of the damage caused," the bench said.
The NGT issued notices to the ministry of environment and forests, L G Polymers India, Andhra Pradesh State Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, Vishakhapatnam District Magistrate and sought their response before 18 May, the next date of hearing.
The committee has AP High Court judge Justice B Seshasayana Reddy, former vice chancellor of Andhra University V Rama Chandra Murthy, head of chemical engineering department of Andhra University Professor Pulipati King besides CPCB member secretary, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology director and head of NEERI in Vizag as members.
The NGT directed Vishakhapatnam DM and regional office of State Pollution Control Board to provide logistic support to the committee to enable their fact-finding and reporting.
"The Chairman, CPCB may steer and facilitate the functioning of the committee using available technology. CPCB will bear the initial cost of functioning of the Committee to the extent necessary. The committee will be at liberty to take assistance of such experts, individuals and institutions as may be considered necessary," the bench said.
The committee may visit and inspect the site at the earliest and give its report before May 18 by email and the site visit may be initially conducted by members available locally in consideration with outside members online, the NGT said.
The committee has been asked to submit detailed report on the sequence of events, causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible, extent of damage to life among others.
The NGT said that styrene gas is a hazardous chemical as defined under Rule 2(e) read with Entry 583 of Schedule I to the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 and the Rules require on-site and off-site Emergency Plans to ensure prevention of damage.
"There appears to be a failure to comply with the said Rules and other statutory provisions. Leakage of hazardous gas at such a scale adversely affecting public health and environment, clearly attracts the principle of 'Strict Liability' against the enterprise engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry," the bench said, adding that such an entity is liable to restore the damage caused under the Environment Law, apart from other statutory liability.
The statutory authorities responsible for authorising and regulating such activities may also be accountable for their lapses, the NGT said.
NGT took up the matter suo-motu on the basis of media reports of leakage of hazardous gas styrene from a chemical factory owned by the South Korean company LG Polymers India Pvt Ltd on 7 May at RR Venkatpuram village, Pendurthy Mandal, Vishakhapatnam causing the death of 13 people and hospitalisation of hundreds.
The major gas leak from a polymer plant near Visakhapatnam in the early morning of Thursday impacted villages in a five-km radius, leaving many people dead and scores of citizens suffering from breathlessness and other problems, leading to the hospitalisation of scores of people.