Court Orders Closure of Delhi's Polluting Industries

By Devinder Sharma

NEW DELHI, India, December 14, 2000 (ENS) - The Supreme Court of India has issued a directive for closure of all polluting industries in New Delhi's residential and non-conforming areas within four weeks. Frantic government efforts are underway to implement the court's decision in an orderly manner.

Nearly 39,000 polluting industries are faced with closure by January 3 at the latest, throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

Among the 62 types of affected businesses are leather, fertilizer, soft drink, bread and biscuits, food processing, paint industries, small boilers, meat and slaughter houses and various chemical industries.


Street in Delhi (Photo courtesy Government of Delhi)
Coming down heavily on the government's ineffectiveness in cleaning up the capital city, a three member Bench including Justice B.N. Kripal, Justice Doraiswamy Raju and Justice Brijesh Kumarthe handed down their directive December 7.

The court's determination to provide a pollution free environment for Delhi's hassled residents became obvious when it applied the order for closure even to polluting units which have installed effluent treatment plants.

Appointing the Urban Development Ministry as the agency responsible for the implementation of the orders, the court made it clear that no stay or injunction against their directive can be granted by any court. The court said it would deal later with other industries located in the residential areas and those operating without licences.

In what is being viewed as an effort to bring in self regulation, the Lt. Governor of Delhi, Vijay Kapoor, on Tuesday ordered the closure of all such polluting units by December 17 at the latest. The order was issued after two days of hectic activities involving Delhi's chief minister, Sheila Dikshit; police commissioner, Ajai Raj Sharma and other ranking officials.


Shri Vijai K. Kapoor (Photo courtesy Government of Delhi)
The December 17 date allows the polluting units to close down before enforcement teams move in. The Delhi government has constituted 27 enforcement teams, headed by a sub-divisional magistrate, to oversee the closure operations.

To ensure that the closure notice does not simply mean sealing the factory premises, the government made it clear that the "modus operandi will include cancellation of the ad hoc licence, if any, and disconnection of the water and electricity supply."

Those who refuse to close down will be prosecuted under the Environment Act, which stipulates imprisonment of up to five years, and a fine up to Rs100,000 (US$ 2,500).

Beginning December 18, a senior officer designated by the Delhi government has been required to monitor the situation and send in a report every alternate day.

Of the nearly 39,000 units facing closure, 6,586 factories, which by their own admission are polluting, have already been allocated alternative land for relocation.

The remaining are polluting units in non-conforming areas, whose owners did not apply for relocation or whose applications were rejected.

On Monday, passions run high among the elected members during a day long special session of the Delhi State Assembly called by the government. Many did not agree with the Supreme Court's order and went out of their way to criticize it. The remarks made by many agitated members against the Court were expunged from the record.


Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit (Photo courtesy Delhi Tourism & Transportation Development Corporation)
The House finally passed a resolution expressing its concern for workers and industries. It held the Urban Development ministry and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) responsible for the closure of the industries and for not creating adequate industrial spaces. After the resolution was passed, Opposition members staged a walkout shouting slogans against the government.

Chief minister Dikshit's rejection of the demand to seek the President of India's intervention on relocation of industries on the ground that the matter is sub judice generated widespread criticism from the members of the State Assembly.

In an effort to resolve the dispute, the chief minister announced that the government will present a policy paper on the state of industries.

The closure of polluting industries is part of the new Delhi government strategy to give a fresh impetus to its clean Delhi campaign. It must handle the solid waste problem in totality from collection to treatment at a disposal site.

The government is seeking the involvement of NGOs in door to door collection, segregation and transportation of garbage to community bins from homes, shops and industries. No further development of slums on public land is to be allowed.