Members of the Expert Appraisal Committee
Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MEFCC)
Govt of India
Dear Members of the EAC,
I understand from the enclosed Agenda notice that the EAC will be holding its 33rd meeting on 18th–19thMay, 2020 for considering the proposals involving violation of EIA Notification.
I further understand that Item No 33.4.4 concerning a proposal submitted by LG Polymers for expanding its capacity for the manufacture of Expandable Polystyrene from 415TPD to 655TPD will also come up for consideration.
I earnestly appeal to you not to condone the violations already committed by LG Polymers of the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act.
From the public domain, I have come across a letter dated 10-5-2019 addressed by LG Polymers to the SEIAA of AP in which the company had admitted to have been already operating the expanded capacity of Engineering Plastics at 36.67TPD without a valid Environment Clearance. Apparently, the company has committed multiple statutory violations that culminated in a ghastly accident that took place in the early hours of 7-5-2020 in which Styrene and other toxic gases enveloped habitations extending upto 5-10km, asphyxiating several unwary persons to death and subjecting hundreds of others to serious injuries. A comprehensive health evaluation of around 50,000 to 60,000 persons resident within the impact zone will show the full adverse impact of the gases in terms of both short-term and long-term implications.
In addition, the poisonous gases seem to have contaminated two drinking water reservoirs, namely, Meghadrigedda and Mudasarlova and caused pollution damage to four Reserve Forest Blocks including the Kambalakonda Protected Wildlife Sanctuary and the eco-sensitive zone notified around it vide MEFCC notification SO(E)1366 dated 28-4-2017.
As the details of the accident indicated, the company failed to take precautionary steps to avert the accident and not cared to alert the affected people in time.
As I see from the Agenda contents, the proposal to be considered involves consideration of certain statutory violations. I would strongly urge upon you not to condone the violations in any manner, as any such condonation would not only encourage LG Polymers to remain callous in conforming to the safety norms but also set a bad precedent to the other similarly placed units dealing with hazardous substances so as to encourage them to take the laws and the regulators for granted.
The Environment (Protection) Act makes it mandatory for projects to have prior environmental clearance and an executive order such as SO 804(E) dated 14-3-2017 or any other such order is ab initio void. An executive order cannot abridge the letter and the spirit of the law. By no stretch of imagination can the Ministry bypass the mandatory requirements of the Act and allow ex post facto approvals.
In this connection, I had specifically addressed the Secretary, MEFCC in my letter dated 12-5-2020, a copy of which is forwarded here. In particular, I would draw your attention to the observations made by the apex court, on the non-desirability of ex post facto approvals, in their order dated 1-4-2020 in Civil Appeal No. 1526 of 2016 (extracted in the enclosed letter).
Any condonation of the violations committed by LG Polymers will result in a proliferation of such ghastly accidents taking place in the future. In my view, units such as this one need to be closed down and those responsible for the accident duly prosecuted under the law of the land.
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to Govt of India