Landmark judgement on environment issue :


Asked to pay residents of Chunnakam Rs.20 mn:
Court applies ‘Polluter Pays’ principle:

In a landmark judgement over an environmental issue in the country, the Supreme Court yesterday ordered Northern Power Company (Pvt.) Ltd which operates a thermal power station in Chunnakam to pay Rs. 20 million in compensation to the residents of the Chunnakam area.

The Court said that the thermal power station has operated in a manner which has polluted groundwater in the area and making water unfit for human use.

The Supreme Court three-judge-bench comprising Justice Prasanna Jayawardena, Justice Priyantha Jayawardena and Justice L.T.B. Dehideniya gave this ruling pursuant to a Fundamental Rights petition filed by Centre for Environment and Nature Studies Chairman Ravindra Gunawardena.

The Supreme Court declared that the respondents have violated the fundamental rights of the petitioner and the residents guaranteed under Articles 12 (1) of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court observed that this is an appropriate case to apply the “Polluter Pays” principle and thereby directed the 8th respondent Northern Power Company (Pvt.) Ltd to pay compensation in a sum of Rs. 20 million to offset at least a part of the substantial loss, harm and damage caused to the residents of the Chunnakam area by the contamination of groundwater in the Chunnakam area and of soil in the vicinity of the 8th respondent’s thermal power station.

The Supreme Court further observed that distribution of this sum of Rs. 20 million among the residents of the Chunnakam area shall be subject to the condition that only the chief occupant of a household is entitled to be paid out of these monies and that the maximum sum payable to one person is Rs. 40,000.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court observed that court do not think to cease all operations. The Court further observed that the permanent shutting down of the thermal power station would be unwise and also irresponsible in the light of the prevailing need for additional electrical power generating capacity to service the demands of the National Grid.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court permitted the Northern Power Company (Pvt.) Ltd to resume operating its thermal power station provided adequate measures are taken to ensure that doing so would not cause contamination or pollution of the surrounding environs, except as may be permitted by a duly issued Environmental Protection License EPL.

The petitioner accuses the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), the Provincial and Local Authorities, the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka (BOI) and the National Water Supply and Drainage Board (NWSDB), who are named as the respondents have failed to enforce the law against the 8th respondent Northern Power Company (Pvt.) Ltd and also failed to stop the 8th respondent polluting groundwater and further failed in their duty to act in the best interests of the public. However, the respondents denied these charges. They say that electricity services in the Jaffna peninsula had been disrupted during the war and that, while the war was underway, the 8th respondent commenced constructing its thermal power station in 2007, in order to provide electricity to the residents of the Jaffna peninsula.

The respondents further said that this thermal power station commenced its operations in 2009 and that, as soon as conditions permitted after the end of the war in 2009, the respondents have taken adequate measures to ensure that the 8th respondent’s thermal power station does not cause pollution.

In this petition, the Central Environmental Authority Chairman, the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) Chairman, the CEB, the Northern Province Chief Minister, the Minister of Environment in the Northern Province, Northern Power Company and the Attorney General as respondents.

The petitioner stated that massive environment pollution occurred due to the power generation project carried out by the Northern Power Company in the area of Chunnakam in the Jaffna peninsula.

The petitioner further stated that water resources in the Jaffna peninsula had been contaminated due to the wastage of the power generation project. He further stated that no Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) had been taken or a proper EIA had been carried out prior to the commencement of the project by the respondent Northern Power Company.

The petitioner finally sought an Interim Order staying the functions and the power generation of Chunnakam powerhouse until the final determination of the application.

Counsel Nuwan Bopage with Chathura Weththasinghe appeared for the Petitioner. Dr. Avanti Perera, SSC appeared for the 1st to 4th, 9th, 10th and 11th Respondents. K. Kanag-Isvaran, PC with L. Jeyakumar instructed by M/S Sinnadurai Sundaralingam and Balendra appeared for the 5th Respondent. Dinal Phillips, PC with Nalin Dissanayake and Pulasthi Hewamanne instructed by Ms. C.D. Amarasekera appeared for the 8th Respondent.





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