A division bench of Chief Justice Aravind Kumar and AJ Shastri of the Gujarat High Court has ordered the appointment of a court commissioner to investigate allegations that steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel Ltd (AM/NS) in Surat discharged untreated trade effluents into the Tapi river and its creek.
A division bench directed the director of the Indian Institute of Gandhinagar (IIT-Gn) on Monday to appoint or depute environmental engineers or other such personnel to conduct the investigation.
The court was forced to name a court commissioner to look into the PIL’s arguments as despite having more than four months passed, the respondents have not responded to the arguments made in the PIL. The court had issued notices to the central and state governments, pollution control boards, the Surat authorities, and ArcelorMittal Nippon Steel Ltd in February.
The PIL brought by environmental scientist Roshni Patel has noted that the company’s effluent disposal violates the zero discharge requirements imposed by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC) when granting it environmental clearance in 2016 and 2010. The petitioner claims that the discharge damages fish reproduction and contributes significantly to water pollution.
It was alleged that AM/NS illegally discharged industrial effluents from its Hazira plant in the Tapi estuary, including those containing acid, heavy metals, organic substances, high TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), and phenolic compounds.
A Consolidated Consent and Authorization (CCA) order from 2020 had also specified that the company should not discharge treated wastewater into the surrounding environment and that the final treated effluent should be reused at the plant for gardening and plantation purposes.
According to a study conducted in September 2021 by the Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association (ATIRA) at the request of local residents living close to the Hazira plant, the industrial effluent discharged into the water bodies did not meet the required standards. Additionally, it noted that in 2020, the regional MoEFCC office had noted that AM/NS was not abiding by the zero effluent discharge condition.
A court commissioner’s appointment is resisted by AM/NS on Monday. However the court reasoned that ” (AM/NS) cannot claim that the appointment of a court commissioner would be detrimental to its interests; however, if trade effluents are currently being discharged that do not meet the prescribed standards, it cannot use that as a cover to claim that it would otherwise meet the prescribed standards.”