Visakhapatnam gas leak: SC refuses to interfere with NGT order directing LG Polymers to deposit Rs 50 crore

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Published: May 20, 2020 1:15:19 AM

On May 7, toxic gas Styrene leaked from a storage tank of LG Polymers’ chemical plant, killing 12 people and affecting more than 100 in the area.

Police have charged the company with culpable homicide, including negligence in handling toxic substances.Police have charged the company with culpable homicide, including negligence in handling toxic substances.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to interfere with the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT’s) order that had directed LG Polymers India to deposit Rs 50 crore for “damaging life, public health and environment” caused by a gas leak on May 7 at its Visakhapatnam plant.

On May 7, toxic gas Styrene leaked from a storage tank of LG Polymers’ chemical plant, killing 12 people and affecting more than 100 in the area. Police have charged the company with culpable homicide, including negligence in handling toxic substances.

A Bench led by Justice UU Lalit on Tuesday refused to stay the NGT order, saying since the green tribunal is seized of the matter, the company should raise all the contentions before it. “Questions raised by the appellant are purely legal in nature. We give liberty to appellant to raise the appropriate concerns before NGT on June 1, the next date of hearing,” the order stated.

LG Polymers had moved the SC against the NGT order that had also directed constituting a fact-finding committee. Senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi, appearing for LG, told the apex court that the company had deposited Rs 50 crore as directed by the NGT, but questioned the direction to constitute the committee. “Our plant is closed and the panel constituted by NGT visited the plant three times without any prior notice,” he said, while clarifying that the company did not want to stall any proceedings.

He questioned whether the NGT can initiate suo moto proceedings, and the need to have more than one committee. “Instead of one committee, seven committees have been set up so far to look into the incident of gas leak. How many should oversee this?” he questioned.

The seven committees include a panel by the central government, National Human Rights Commission of India, Central Pollution Control Board, among others.

Rohtagi further argued that the NGT could not have taken up the matter when the issue was already before the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

Justice Lalit observed that the incident occurred on May 7, and the order passed by the HC was on May 7 itself. “Since the HC was the one to take action, thus you may impress upon the NGT that a committee formed by a court of constitutional authority has been formed,” the Bench said, adding that the NGT was not aware of these developments when it passed the order on May 8. “So, it would be unfair on our part to injunct it,” the apex court said.

The NGT on May 8 had taken suo moto cognizance of the gas leak incident and ordered that the penalty amount be deposited before the district magistrate of Visakhapatnam.

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.”

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