• First ever instance where NGT has ordered a health study to see impacts of industrial
pollution on communities.
• NGT has directed the expert committee to apply “reverse engineering or relate back
theory to the condition of air, water and soil in Cuddalore prior to the establishing
of the SIPCOT Industrial Complex”
• Considers the principles of polluter pays, precautionary principle, sustainable
development and intergenerational equity in deciding the case.
• Directs State Government, SIPCOT and Cuddalore SIPCOT Industrial Association to
pay for the studies and clean up measures
Chennai, 6 March 2021: The National Green Tribunal has ordered for the preparation of a
comprehensive action plan and detailed health study to understand the reverse the effects
of severe contamination of ground water by industries in the SIPCOT Cuddalore Industrial
area. The NGT’s Southern Zone bench comprising of Justice K. Ramakrishnan and Expert
Member Shri. Saibal Dasgupta, in a 286-page landmark judgement have constituted an expert
committee to formulate the action plan.
The bench also directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board “to initiate action against the
industries identified and impose environmental compensation against them, after following
the procedure in accordance with law”. Passing the order on Friday in the matter of OA No
34 of 2015 (SZ), S Pugazendhi vs Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Justice K. Ramakrishnan
expressed grave concerns that there are several studies by the CPCB which have stated that
SIPCOT Cuddalore is severe to critically polluted and the ground water quality is particularly
What makes this judgement truly first of its kind is that a comprehensive health study has
been ordered in addition to an environmental study. “reverse engineering or relate back
theory” has been recommended to ascertain pollution and its health impacts. An in-depth
study will have to be conducted by comparing the situation prevailing prior to the
establishment of the industrial complex and post establishment to ascertain the environment
degradation, by applying the reverse engineering or relate back theory to ascertain the source
and probable reason and person(s) responsible for the same.
According to Ritwick Dutta, advocate for the petitioners, “this decision is truly landmark in
the depth at which the Tribunal dealt with the issue before it. The various technical and
scientific reports were considered by the Tribunal while issuing comprehensive direction to
remedy the situation. The 286-page judgment reflects that the NGT conducted a detailed
merit review of the existing actions to deal with the environmental problems and clearly felt
that it was inadequate and there is a need for more scientific assessment and action to ensure
that local community has the right to clean water is restored and recognized. This is the first
time the NGT has looked into the intersectionality of environment and health and ordered a
comprehensive health study. This is clearly a precedent setting judgment of the Tribunal’
According to the order, “this Tribunal feels that it is necessary to appoint a comprehensive
committee to conduct an elaborate comprehensive study in respect of the SIPCOT, Cuddalore
viz. water pollution, the source of heavy metals, remedial measures to be taken and identify
the persons responsible for such degradation and collect environmental compensation from
those persons who are responsible for such act, by applying ‘polluter pays’ principle and also
to conduct health study impact of such things on the health of the people in that locality and
provide necessary remedial measures to resolve the issue permanently, suggesting
recommendations and the persons who are expected to carry out such recommendations and
implementation of the action plan in an effective manner”.
The order also stated that, “As an environment court, this Tribunal has got a responsibility,
when it is found that the place continues to be a severely polluted area, at least in respect of
water pollution, then applying the ‘precautionary’ principle and ‘polluter pays’ principle and
‘intergenerational equity’ to take measures to remedy the situation and give necessary
direction to the persons who are responsible to carry out such directions to meet the
Welcoming the NGT’s order, the residents of villages around he SIPCOT Cuddalore Industrial
area said this is an important victory in their struggle to reclaim their rights to clean air and
water. “The NGT order is a victory for people who have suffered severe pollution, ground
water contamination and adverse impacts on their health from the industries in the region.
We welcome the Court’s order and now urge the state & district administration to ensure
that this order and these recommendations are implemented in a time-bound manner to
ensure that there is no further damage from industrial activities on our health and
environment. We also urge the government to ensure that no further expansion or new
industries are started in the region until all these violations are corrected and adverse impacts
reversed”, said S Pugazendhi, the petitioner in the case.
For more details contact: T Arulselvam: +91 9443737134 ; Shweta Narayan – +91 8056024315
Key Highlights of the order:
A committee comprising of:
a. A Senior Scientist from the Central Pollution Control Board
b. Senior Scientist from the State Pollution Control Board
c. An Expert in Chemical Engineering, especially Organic Chemicals with industrial
knowledge, probably from National Institute of Science, Tiruchirappalli
d. Scientist having knowledge of Industrial Pollution with Inorganic Chemistry
background from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
e. Senior Health Officer from Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, Chennai,
f. District Collector, Cuddalore
is appointed to inspect the SIPCOT Industrial Complex and the villages proximity to the same
and probable villages likely to be affected on account of such industrial activities and prepare
a comprehensive action plan to remedy the situation.
(i) The Committee is directed to conduct the following study for preparing the action plan for
resolving the issue of water pollution and restore the water quality:
a) Conduct study, applying reverse engineering or relate back theory to the condition
of air, water and soil in Cuddalore prior to the establishing of the SIPCOT Industrial
Complex and subsequent to the same.
b) The reason for the presence of heavy metals like Chromium, Nickel, Cadmium, Lead,
Iron and other heavy metals and the reason for high TDS and hardness of water quality
and relative study has to be conducted as to whether this was due to the any of the
activities of the industrial units in the area due to generation of natural reasons
prevailing in that area.
(c) Conduct Health Study as to whether there was any increase in the mortality rate
or increase in the nature of disease prior to and after the establishment of the SIPCOT
(d) The remedial measures to be taken for the purpose of resolving the issue
(e) Identify the units/industry on account of whose probable activity that such
contamination has been caused.
(f) Suggestions and recommendations to be carried out by the industrial units or other
establishment so as to resolve the issue permanently and take the water quality to
the extent of potable limit to provide clean water to the people of the locality. The
Committee is also directed to conduct study regarding the functioning of RO system
provided and if any improvement is required, suggest the same as well.
(ii)The Committee shall prepare a Comprehensive Action Plan with recommendation of
temporary and long-term measures to resolve the issue and assess the environmental
compensation, fixing the responsibility of the persons responsible for the same and provide
necessary data and method of calculation of assessment of environmental compensation.
(iii) The Committee is given the liberty to coopt any other expert of their choice to conduct
the study and prepare action plan.
iv) The expenses for conducting the said study shall be borne by the SIPCOT and fifth
respondent, apart from the State Government of providing necessary funds if necessary, for
meeting the situation.
(v) Till such study is completed and action plan implemented the present arrangement of
providing drinking water to the affected villages by SIPCOT and fifth respondent Association
(vi)The District Collector, Cuddalore will be the Nodal Officer for providing necessary logistics
and coordination for the Committee to inspect and prepare the report.
(vii) The Committee is directed to complete the study and prepare the report within a period
of six months and submit the same to the State Government and also this Tribunal by e-filing
in the form of Searchable PDF/OCR Supportable PDF and not in the form of Image PDF along
with necessary hardcopies to be produced as per Rules
(viii)The State Government, SIPCOT, fifth respondent Association and State Pollution Control
Board are directed to evolve the methodology of implementing the action plan and direct the
responsible persons to implement the Action Plan so as to remedy the situation in an effective
and time bound manner.
(ix) This Tribunal shall consider the report and pass appropriate direction if any required at a
later stage on receipt of the report from the Committee.
(x) The Pollution Control Board is directed to initiate action against the industries identified
and impose environmental compensation against them, after following the procedure in
accordance with law.
(xi) Considering the circumstances, the parties are directed to bear their respective costs in
(xii) The office is directed to communicate this order to the Members of the Committee, Chief
Secretary, State of Tamil Nadu, Secretary to Government, Health Department, Secretary to
Government, Industries and Environment Department and also the official respondents by email
immediately so as to enable them to comply with the direction of this Tribunal.
(xiii) The office is directed to place the report if any received as directed for consideration of
this Tribunal and also for issuing any further direction in future if necessary, as and when the
report is received without delay.