The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Andhra Pradesh High Court to decide by the end of next week all the three pleas filed by LG Polymers India, including one seeking access to the sealed Visakhapatnam plant where a poisonous gas leak incident took place last month.
On May 7, a toxic gas, styrene, leaked from a storage tank of LG Polymer’s chemical plant, killing 12 people and affecting more than 100 in the area. Police have charged LG Polymers with culpable homicide, including negligence in handling toxic substances.
A bench led by Justice UU Lalit, without going into merits of the case, asked the Andhra Pradesh High Court to expeditiously hear the plea, preferably by the end of this week. It also said that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has the powers to take suo motu cognizance of incidents that have implications on the environment, the stand opposed by LG Polymers.
Besides, it also allowed LG Polymers to move the HC for release of the passports of their directors, which have been deposited with authorities.
“We pass interim directions viz. NGT’s order, restraining the disbursal of Rs 50 crore (deposited by LG Polymers) for 10 days…,” the bench said. The apex court had earlier refused to interfere with the NGT’s order that had asked LG Polymers to deposit Rs 50 crore for “damaging life, public health and environment.” However, it had as an “interim measure” allowed 30 employees of LG Polymers India to access the Visakhapatnam plant so as to undertake safety works.
Senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for LG Polymers, sought directions to access the plant to ensure that it could respond to various committees that have been set up by different authorities. The collector had no reason to prevent two company personnel from entering the plant just because they were lawyers, even though the Supreme Court had earlier allowed the entry of 30 personnel into the plant, he said.
He further argued that the case is yet to be taken up by the HC even as numerous committees have been appointed to monitor the issue. “We are not criminals that we will run away,” Rohtagi contended.
While the NGT on May 7 had taken suo moto cognizance of the gas leak incident and ordered that `50-crore penalty be deposited before the district magistrate of Visakhapatnam, the HC had ordered sealing of the plant and barred entry of all except committees members appointed by the state government.
The NGT, while setting up a five-member committee headed by former AP HC judge Justice B Seshasayana Reddy, said: “The committee may specifically report on the sequence of events, causes of failure and persons and authorities responsible, extent of damage to life, human and non-human, public health and environment – including water, soil and air, steps to be taken for compensation of victims and restitution of the damaged property and environment and the cost involved.”