The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed a fine of Rs 2,080 crore on Punjab and noted that the state government had not taken any steps to tackle the problem of solid and liquid municipal waste management in the past few years.
The tribunal has been monitoring the implementation of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules and the Water Act across states in India since 2018.
In the last three weeks, the NGT has imposed environmental compensation penalties on Maharashtra, West Bengal and Rajasthan.
While the Rajasthan government was slapped with a Rs 3,000 crore fine for failing to implement waste management mechanisms, the tribunal imposed fines of Rs 12,000 crore on Maharashtra and Rs 3,500 crore on West Bengal for the violation of environmental norms.
Taking up the implementation issue in Punjab, the NGT in an order passed on September 22 noted that no action was taken despite multiple orders from the bench.
Meanwhile, the tribunal was informed that the state would be setting out timelines for projects to set up sewage treatment plants over the next few years.
"Remedial action cannot wait for an indefinite period as is being proposed by the administration," noted the principal bench of the NGT headed by chairman, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, along with judicial member, Sudhir Agarwal, and expert member, Prof A Senthil Vel.
"Are there insurmountable difficulties for state authorities or lack of will and determination?" questioned the court, noting that it has now been "48 years of enactment of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and expiry of timelines for taking necessary steps for solid waste management in terms of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016."
The NGT order also noted that the state has not taken any action to punish those violating norms relating to solid waste and sewage management. No fines or penalties had been imposed on municipal authorities, industries or persons for violating the norms.
"Even after three years, neither is there adequate compliance nor has the same been projected in the immediate future. No accountability is fixed, no performance audit is shown to have been conducted and no entries in ACRs are shown to have been made. There is nothing to show that compensation has been recovered in terms of directions of the tribuna," remarked the NGT.
The NGT also summoned the Chief Secretary of Punjab for an explanation before passing this order.
The fine has to be deposited by the state government within two months. The tribunal also asked for stringent monitoring at an appropriate level, including at the level of the District Magistrates.
In 2019, the NGT summoned the Chief Secretaries of all states and passed directions for the implementation of environmental protection and waste management norms.
The tribunal had in 2019 noted that "Large scale non-compliance of environmental norms was resulting in deaths and diseases and irreversible damage to the environment, without accountability for such failures."
Three years after the directions were passed, the NGT is now conducting a review of the work carried out by the various states.