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Pollution body shouldn’t bat for coal: Activists
Anahita Mukherji| Oct 6, 2015, 01.17 AM IST
MUMBAI: While the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) looks to ease environment norms so that the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) continues handling coal along the city's eastern seafront, activists and environmentalists say environmental norms are non-negotiable. It is, after all the pollution regulator's job to control pollution, not promote industry.
Shock has been expressed over the matter, especially as the port trust issued a notice that it would stop handling coal by September 24 and clear the area by October 31. Its "consent to operate" for coal, issued by the board, is set to expire at the month-end.
The port trust had earlier written to the pollution control board expressing inability to meet environmental norms. The port trust is not keen to continue coal-handling operations but is under much pressure from vested interests. "MPCB is responsible for water and air quality in the state. The water at Haji Bunder (where coal is unloaded on port land) is black, and mangroves in the area are dying," said retired vice admiral IC Rao, who, along with banker Meera Sanyal, filed a petition in Bombay high court last year against coal handling on port land. Rao pointed out that the Central Pollution Control Board had measured air quality in Parel, adjacent to Sewri where coal handling takes place, where particles of below 2.5 microns were found in the air. "This is incredibly dangerous, as these particles, once lodged in a person's lungs, are too small to get out, remain embedded in lung tissue and reduce lung capacity for life," said Rao.
The MPCB has no business to relax environment norms, said Rao, pointing out that norms have been eased to such an extent that the pollution regulator allowed the port trust to begin coal handling without a 'consent to establish' order. "Consent to establish would have ensured the port trust would only have been allowed to begin coal handling once all the equipment was in place to curb pollution," said Rao. He pointed out that, despite violations on the part of the port trust, the pollution control board kept renewing its 'consent to operate' for coal, and even gave them consent retrospectively.
"By placing commerce and convenience over citizen's health, the decisions being taken may well amount to manslaughter," said environmentalist Bittu Sahgal. Environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali says it is the role of the pollution regulator to set standards for environmental pollution and help implement them. "As they are the ones handing out licences, there is no question of them relaxing environment norms," she said.
Awaaz Foundation has campaigned against air, water and heavy metal pollution which affects the health of people and environments.