In September this year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in India, imposed Environmental Compensation of Rs 120,000 million (1.5 billion USD) on the State of Maharashtra for allegedly not managing solid as well as liquid waste management causing harm to the environment. This fine on the State was imposed under section 15 of the NGT Act.
The ripples of this news were soon spread across India. The news was also a headline in the “Prithvi Samachar” (i.e. Earthly news bulletin) in Lord Yamaraj’s (Lord of Death) office in the heavens.
Lord Yama used to subscribe to Prithvi Samachar regularly as issued by ODTV as he believed that this bulletin kept him informed about all the bad news on the earth. Lord Yama was not excited about the good news as he loved topics such as floods, murders and rapes, the rising corruption etc. Prithvi Samachar had plenty of such news every day. In fact, he wanted to suggest ODTV to expand the bulletin to 8 pages from the present meagre 2 page edition. Two pages of bad news do not do a good justice, he used to say. With more irresponsible behaviour of humans, he wanted a special page just devoted to environmental crimes.
Talking about the justice, Lord Yama depended on his assistant Chitragupta on matters related rewards and punishments after death.
(Incidentally, those of you who don’t know – in ancient Indian mythology, Chitragupta, son of Brahma, is the scribe who records all actions of every human being. These records are reviewed by Lord Yama for judging the soul after death.
It is said that Yama would become confused sometimes when dead souls would come to him, and he would occasionally send the souls to either heaven or hell wrongly. This is just like the Judiciaries on the earth. Lord Brahma, however determined to solve this problem and sat in meditation for thousands of years. Finally, when he opened his eyes, Chitragupta stood before him. Chitragupta, sometimes referred to as the first man to use letters, is known to be incredibly meticulous, and with his pen and paper tracks every action (good or bad) of every sentient life form. These perfect and complete documents are referred to in mystical traditions as the “Akashic” records. The Akashic records are used then by Lord Yama to issue the order. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chitragupta)
After reading this exciting news of compensation ordered by NGT, Lord Yama asked Chitragupta to visit Earth and get all the information, consult all the stakeholders (in style of World Bank Groups handbooks) and prepare “Hervard” (He is for heavenly and not Harvard!) management case study to show case how NGT delivers justice under section 15 of NGT Act to safeguard the environment.
Chitragupta accordingly arrived on earth, of course in disguise, and started meeting people in Delhi and in Mumbai. He was interested to learn about the science and methodology used in the computation of environmental compensation. He thought that armed with this knowledge he will improve his algorithms in arriving at the final award to human beings after death. Before starting the conversations with “stakeholders”, Chitragupta read various reports on environmental law, environmental ethics and environmental economics published globally, including those in India. He was impressed after going through literature, workbooks and case studies.
He met an ex-member of the Tribunal and congratulated him for the impressive record of the NGT in passing such orders. Before Maharashtra, State of Rajasthan was fined Rs 30,000 million and the State of West Bengal was directed to deposit Rs 35,000 million. Very impressive examples of environmental justice, he thought.
The member was however not happy. He said that mere passing of orders has not shown any tangible results in the last eight years (for solid waste management) and five years (for liquid waste management), even after expiry of statutory/laid down timelines. The damage to the environment has continued as actions are not being implemented and the orders are challenged in the Supreme court.
Chitragupta was happy that there was no such system of making appeals to higher courts in Lord Yama’s kingdom. The punishment or reward once given on the basis of net of “sins and good work” was the final decision, with no provision to challenge. Essentially, justice was delivered, instantly, on the basis of Chitragupta’s meticulous record keeping system. For a while, he thought that this record keeping should be a role of Central and State Pollution Control Boards but then he dropped the idea when he visited some of the Boards and saw shortage of staff, low moral and high levels of corruption.
The NGT member gave a break up for Maharashtra. A gap in treatment of liquid waste and sewage in Maharashtra is 5420.33 MLD and so the compensation works out to Rs. 108400.66 million. The compensation for un-remediated legacy waste is computed to the extent 12,000 million crores rounding the total as Rs. 120,000/- million. The NGT directed the State of Maharashtra to deposit the same in a separate ring-fenced account to be operated as per directions of Chief Secretary and utilised for immediate restoration measures. This restoration plan is to be planned and executed in a time-bound manner without further delay. If violations continue, liability to pay additional compensation may have to be considered. Compliance will be the responsibility of the Chief Secretary.
Chitragupta was interested how these computations were done. There must be a gigantic mathematical model he wondered. It must be based on numerous environmental measurements, social impact assessment and plugging in some of the advanced damage assessment tools from the realm of environmental economics. May be a blockchain is used and perhaps an artificial intelligence app, or satellite based imageries – he mused. Chitragupta was really eager to learn.
But when one of the staff members of CPCB showed him a publication, Report of the CPCB In-house Committee on Methodology for Assessing Environmental Compensation and Action Plan to Utilize the Fund, he found that the methodology suggested for the compensation was very rudimentary, but arguably most practical. You needed to generate some numbers and based on limited data? Damage assessment in a tribunal is not a PhD research. He admitted.
More research on this topic and past NGT orders led Chitragupta to following observations.
- In several cases, NGT slapped fines on the basis of 5% of the project cost or the annual turnover of the company (and sometimes limited to the turnover of the polluting unit only). Chitragupta wondered how this figure of 5% was arrived at. While these figures seem low compared to the extent of damage caused, even these amounts are not paid by the “polluters” in the stipulated time, However in cases when the fines were high, the orders were either stayed by higher courts or put on hold due to some reasons.
- Many times, the moneys deposited as compensation were not used for the purpose directed. In a majority of cases, NGT directed the money to be paid to various administrative authorities, including state- and district-level bodies like pollution control boards, environment and forest departments and district collectors (who should be actually held responsible for not doing a proper job!).
- The rationale or methodology for computation of compensation was often not consistent or was based on earlier orders – whether correctly computed or not.
When Chitragupta met one of the top NGT lawyers and a Professor, they told him that the amount levied was often too low to act as a deterrent. But the lawyer argued that It does not matter whether the penalty amount was big or small so far was it can affect the reputation of the company at fault.
The “bad image” can affect company’s employees, customers and importantly the investors.
“Well, Chitragupta, please write a report on the analyses of NGT order on Maharashtra. Tell us if there is anything for us to learn while punishing those who commit sins including environmental crimes”. Lord Yama said this in the voice like Darth Vadar in Star wars.
While writing the report meticulously as usual, Chitragupta recalled that while walking in the corridors of Maharashtra’s Mantrayala (Government secretariat), somebody whispered that the recent decision of Vedanta of shifting multibillion semiconductor business to State of Gujarat was because of the NGT fine of 120000 million to Maharashtra. Perhaps, Maharashtra lost its image due to the environmental non-performance and the investors were not very pleased.
While this could have been a great reason to make States discharge their environmental responsibility, Chitragupta very well knew that whispers in the corridors of Mantralaya were never to be believed. He thought that the timing could have been just a coincidence!
In closing, Chitragupta decided not to report this finding to the Lord.
I leave to your imagination the lessons Chitragupta learnt!
Do read article by Srestha Banerjee, Ikshaku Bezbaroa , Chandra Bhushan Tribunal on a tightrope published 30 April 2018 in down to earth magazine of Centre for Science and Environment. I have draw in this blog many of the findings from this article.
You may like to read ESTIMATING THE COST OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION A Training Manual in English, French and Arabi published by the World Bank.
Cover image sourced from https://vedicgoddess.weebly.com/bhakti-masala-blog/lord-chitragupta-lord-yamas-chief-accountant