Friday, October 21, 2011

HPCL oil refinery: Bombay HC raps government, BMC

HPCL oil refinery: Bombay HC raps government, BMC
Published: Tuesday, Oct 18, 2011, 22:14 IST
By DNA Correspondent | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The Bombay high court rapped the Maharashtra government and the Brihanmumbai municipal Corporation (BMC) for failing to consider public health and safety concerns around the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) before granting permission to construct a residential-cum-commercial complex adjoining the refinery.

A division bench of justice PB Majmudar and justice RM Sawant continued the stay on the construction by Oswal Agro Mills Limited, which purchased the factory earlier owned by Union Carbide.

"Government mechanically permitted conversion from industrial zone to commercial zone in which even residential construction are also permitted… Public health and safety should be of paramount importance and should not be made a casualty of by the state government and the (municipal) corporation," observed the bench while asking the BMC, government and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board to file its reply.

Justice Majmudar further remarked: "The government has not applied its mind before converting the land to commercial zone. It is unfortunate that even after incidents like Bhopal gas tragedy, the government has failed to consider vital aspects of safety and security. If tomorrow some untoward incident takes place who is to take responsibility."

The court was hearing a petition filed by HPCL stating that a residential-cum-commercial project in the vicinity of their refinery not only poses threat to their installations but also the residents would be at risk because of the fumes from their refinery.
Fredun DeVitre, HPCL's counsel, pointed out a report by the Intelligence Bureau stating that post 26/11 terror attacks wherein sea route was used, there was heightened security threat to oil installations.

Priti Purandare, advocate for BMC, argued that they sanctioned the plans of Oswal since the government granted permission as per the amendment in the Development Control Regulations (DCR) and converting the area from I-3 (industrial zone) to commercial zone.

The court observed: "It cannot be of dispute that the refinery is of hazardous activity and untoward incident may occur. Surprisingly the state government did not consider this aspect while modifying the DCR and converting it to commercial zone."

Janak Dwarkadas, counsels for Oswal, argued that they have taken the necessary permission from all the concerned authorities before commencing construction.

"In February, a meeting was called of all the concerned parties, where HPCL was also present. They were given the option of acquiring the plot of Union Carbide too if they considered it to be a threat to their installations. They were to inform within 15 days, however, they never replied," argued Dwarkadas.

As per the DCR a buffer of 500 meters has to be kept from the refinery. HPCL itself has a plot which is not developed. The plot falls between the refinery and the construction by Oswal. "They can leave 500 meters free over there. They can't ask us not to construct in the vicinity," added Dwarkadas.

The court also reprimanded the HPCL for delay on their part for acting on the matter. Justice Majmudar remarked: "You (HPCL) should have taken action then instead your officers waited till construction began. There is no doubt that prima facie your officers are also involved. Officers should have been vigilant."

DeVitre argued that it got sanction to approach the court only in February this year. He added that the chairman of HPCL would look into why officers did not report the matter immediately and would initiate enquiry if required.

The court has directed the government, BMC and MPCB to file their reply by November 15 and kept the petition for hearing on November 21.

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