Kolkata: The National Green Tribunal has instituted an inquiry by an expert committee to probe the frequent fly-ash barge capsize incidents in the Hooghly or in the eco-sensitive Sunderbans involving Bangladesh-registered vessels.
Acting on a petition by Dakshinbanga Matsajibi Forum, a platform of fish workers in south Bengal, the NGT held the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and owners of the capsized barges responsible for the environmental damage, and hence, liable to paying damages in accordance with the polluter pay principle under Section 15 of the NGT Act, 2010.
The NGT has also stated that movement of fly-ash and other harmful substances through the Sunderbans will be restricted till a biodiversity impact assessment is carried out by the National Biodiversity Board with participation of fisherfolk and other coastal communities. It has called for an alternative route through the Bay of Bengal.
IWAI, the state pollution control board and forest department have been tasked with jointly setting up a monitoring mechanism to check the safety standards for barges carrying fly-ash, including fixing an age limit for vessels allowed to enter Indian waters.
Sources said most of the barges being used to transport fly-ash were condemned vessels and needed to be scrapped but were still in use so that owners could claim insurance once they capsized. The dumping of fly-ash caused contamination of the river and affected fish population in the area, thereby adversely impacting the lives of traditional fisherfolk.
The NGT order called for a time-bound action plan to remove all the fly-ash that has been deposited in the Hooghly river network, including the fly-ash that has been carried downstream, with the involvement of public and environmental groups.
The expert committee comprising representatives of the Central Pollution Control Board, state pollution control board, PCCF Wildlife and South 24 Parganas district magistrate will conduct the inquiry and file its report within two months.