NGT orders to pay compensation of Rs 20 lakh to next of kin in Una fire tragedy

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Shimla, Mar 11
Principal Bench of National Green Tribunal has ordered to pay the compensation to the tune of Rs 20 lakhs to next of kin in the firecracker tragedy and Rs.15 lakhs to persons ( 50 pc burn injuries) Rs.10 lakhs to 25 to 50 pc and Rs.5 lakhs for 5 to 25 pc burn injuries. The bench comprising of chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel, Judicial Member Sudhir Agarwal, and Expert Member Prof. A. Senthil Vel, passed a 13 paged order on Mar 8, 2022 copy of which was loaded on the NGT website today.

The order said that those victims who are being treated as outdoor patients and who had but a minor degree of burns or other forms of simple injuries are to be paid Rs. 2 lakhs each. The compensation would be in addition to any ex-gratia payment made or which may be made. The NGT said that such payments may be made by the State Administration within one month, after due verification of identity through the District Magistrate, Una and requisite amount be made available by the Chief Secretary of Himachal and the amount may be recovered from the violators, as per law by using coercive measures, if necessary. The bench said that this would be in addition to criminal liability.
The state may also take necessary preventive measures in respect of such accidents in the light of directions already issued by this Tribunal. Chief Secretary may conduct a meeting on the subject of the concerned departments within one month, which may also be attended by the Regional Officer of CPCB, Chandigarh. The bench said that the aggrieved party may have the liberty to move to this Tribunal if it desires so.
NGT said that the above tragedy struck is the liability of the State for its failure in addition to the responsible persons. The persons who had taken licences had further rented out the premises. Some private persons have been identified. It is also clear that such incidents are frequent. Activities are highly dangerous but are not being regulated by the State PCB, Labour Department and the District Magistrate.
The State has failed to put in an appearance or give any explanation for its failure to protect the lives of citizens by enforcing the law. The reason may be negligence of the concerned officers or incompetence. In such circumstances, the victims have thus, where deaths or injuries are a result of hazardous commercial activity in violation of environmental safety norms as per rules framed under the Explosive Act, the jurisdiction of this Tribunal under Section 15 of the NGT Act is attracted.
Apart from the principle of absolute liability on the part of owner or occupier of such activity, the principle of “parens patriae” is attracted that is State is in the nature of parent or guardian of the helpless citizen, who became victims of a breach of safety norms which the State is expected to enforce. Thus, the victims are to be compensated by the State and compensation paid to be recovered by the State from the wrongdoer or person liable to pay on absolute liability principle but against whom the helpless victim is not able to enforce its right.
In the present case, facts stand verified by the State authorities as factual reports submitted by the Deputy Commissioner, Una and also the State PCB. The reports establish the identity of the deceased and the injured. It is also clear that the same is attributable to the illegal hazardous activity, in violation of the environmental safety norms under the EP Act, 1986, including the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989. There is a clear liability of the Project Proponents to compensate the heirs of the deceased and the injured on restitution principle, stated the Principal bench of NGT. Having regard to the helpless nature of victims, it is difficult for them to recover the amount directly and the State failed in its duty of preventing regulated hazardous activity. The victims cannot be left without a remedy, they added. The State could be required to first pay compensation and then recover the same from the violators.
The tragedy took as many as 11 life of mostly women and nine others suffered burn injuries. The report of Mar 2, 2022, filed by the State PCB said that the firecracker unit in question was operating illegally in Village Bathu, Tehsil Haroli, District Una, H.P. There was no consent of the State PCB nor any permission from the Industry Department, Labour Department, Electricity Board or Fire Department. There was no license from the Chief Controller of Explosives, Petroleum and Explosive and Safety Organization (PESO).
Before establishing such a unit, M/s. Nova Tech Engineers was manufacturing weighing scales, structures and steel structures etc. which were closed in 2014. The said previous establishments sold the land to Nikhil Soni son of Pramod Soni resident of 117, UG/F Raja Garden, Delhi 110027, was running the firecracker unit in question illegally. Another firecracker unit was being run in the name of M/s. Jai Guruji in Village Bela Bathri, Tehsil Haroli, District Una, H.P. has been sealed by the District Authorities and its power supply has been disconnected by the State Electricity Department. Divisional Commissioner, Kangra has been asked to look into the matter and the Director-General of Police of HP has constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for investigation of a criminal offence.
The report of the Deputy Commissioner, Una of Mar 5, 2022, acknowledges that six persons died on the spot and 14 were injured. Out of the total of 20 victims, 18 were females and 02 males, 11 injured persons were referred to PGI Chandigarh while three were admitted to the local hospital. Five persons have died later. Thus, in all Relief has been provided to the heirs of six deceased at the rate of Rs. 50,000 each and 08 injured persons have been given relief of Rs. 15,000 each while 05 injured persons have been given relief of Rs. 5,000 each. Rs. four lac per deceased would be disbursed to the heirs after codal formalities. Relief announced by the Prime Minister at the rate Rs. 2 lac per family of the deceased and Rs. 50,000 per injured person is also to be given, the order said.

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