The Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) approached the Apex Court with a writ petition in the nature of mandamus (command) in 2012, seeking action from the Union Government as well as States and Union Territories towards prevention of pollution by ensuring that no industry that requires a “consent to operate” from a Pollution Control Board, would be permitted to function, unless it had a functional effluent treatment plant, capable of meeting the prescribed norms for removing the pollutants from the effluent, before it is discharged.[1].

On 22nd February, 2017 Supreme Court passed its judgement in this regard laying down a mandate for industries to have ‘functional’ primary effluent treatment plant, within three months from the date of passing of judgement. Further the Court also directed the State Governments and the concerned Union territories to set up ‘common effluent treatment plants’ mandatorily within a period of three years.

Moreover, to ensure the implementation of these orders, the concerned State Governments/ Union Territories were directed to make provision for setting up an “online, real time, continuous monitoring system” to display emission levels on the portal of the concerned State Pollution Control Board.

The key highlights of the judgment are as below-

‘Primary’ Effluent Treatment Plant

  • The Supreme Court, based on the affidavits provided by the Pollution Control Boards noted that all running industrial units, which require “consent to operate” from the concerned Pollution Control Board, have a functional primary effluent treatment plant, in place without which the “no objection certificate” and “consent to operate” are not issued. The Supreme Court noted that the question before the Court was whether the effluent treatment plants remained in force after the issue of the “no objection certificate” and “consent to operate”. The Supreme Court directed the concerned State’s Pollution Control Board to issue notice to all industries through a common advertisement, to make their primary effluent treatment plant fully operational within 3 months duration, to obtain a ‘consent to operate’ from the concerned Pollution Control Board.
  • After the expiry of the said notice period, the concerned State Pollution Control Board(s) are required to carry out inspections in the industries to verify the establishment of ‘functional’ treatment plant.
  • After the inspection, if it is found that any industry is not able to comply with the orders, such industry shall be restrained from any further industrial activity.
  • For the implementation of the restraining orders, the Supreme Court guided the State Pollution Control Boards to co-ordinate with the concerned electrical supply and distribution agency/company, and further disconnecting the electricity supply to the defaulting industry.

It is pertinent to note that the State Pollution Control Board has power to issue directions vide Section 31A of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981which provides that-

“Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, subject to the provisions of this Act, and to any directions that the Central Government may give in this behalf, a Board may, in the exercise of its powers and performance of its functions under this Act, issue any directions in writing to any person, officer or authority, and such person, officer or authority shall be bound to comply with such directions.

Explanation.-For the avoidance of doubts, it is hereby declared that tile power to issue directions under this section, includes the power to direct-

(a) The closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or

(b)The stoppage or regulation of supply of electricity, water or any other service” 

Same power has also been bestowed upon State Pollution Control Board under section 33A of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 to extend powers to Board under the said Act.

Accordingly, the State Pollution Control Board has been endowed with wide discretionary powers and authority to ensure compliance of the laws relating to prevention and control of pollution. The Supreme Court has reiterated that State Boards shall make use of these powers to make sure that all industrial units have effluent treatment plant in proper functioning state.

  • The defaulting industry will be then required to make fresh application for obtaining permission to operate from the Pollution Control Board, only after making the primary effluent treatment plant ‘operational’.

This direction is to ensure that all industries have a ‘functional’ effluent treatment plant rather than a treatment plant just for the show to obtain permission from the concerned Pollution Control Board. Industries now need to have mandatory fully-functional effluent treatment plant before they seek any permission to operate.

Common Effluent Treatment Plant

  • The Supreme Court directed the State Governments including the Union Territories to set up ‘Common effluent treatment plants’ within a period of three years from the date of judgment.
  • During the course of hearing, the running of operational 'common effluent treatment plants' was also raised as matter of serious concern as some of the common effluent treatment plants were dis-functional, because of lack of finances.
  • The Supreme Court observed that local authorities cannot shy away from their responsibilities vested upon them by the Constitution of India, contending lack of financial resources and hence norms should be evolved and finalized on or before 31st March, 2017, for the purpose of generating finances to install and run all ‘common effluent treatment plants’.  The Court noted that Article 243X and Article 243Y provides power to municipalities to levy taxes for any concerned cause and hence provide a remedy towards financial constraints. Hence, the Municipalities and other local authorities cannot shy away from the obligation contending financial constraints.