The High Court of Madras in southern India has ordered that forty containers of hazardous municipal waste imported from the US be shipped back.
The waste had been lying unloaded at a port in Tamil Nadu for three years, following objections by the Customs authorities.
A division bench of the Madras High Court on Friday rapped ITC Limited for importing the "undesired cargo". The court directed the company to clear out the waste at its own cost and slapped a litigation cost of Rs 50,000. The judges also asked the Centre to initiate civil and criminal proceedings against officials who "masterminded such illegal ideas" within a period of 12 weeks.
The court came down hard on the West for seeking to dump unwated, hazardous materials on the third world. It said: "It is really painful, rather pathetic, to note that developed countries are searching for dumping yards in developing countries to dump municipal waste to enjoy a pollution-free surroundings in their countries."
The bench comprising Justice Elipe Dharma Rao and Justice S Tamilvanan, dismissing a writ appeal of ITC on Friday, said: "The cargo is municipal waste shipped to India, which cannot be sold or allowed to be disposed of in any manner in India, since it will cause much danger to Mother Nature, as has been correctly observed by the Customs Department and the Pollution Control Board."
ITC sourced the material from US-based Evergreen Specialities which was meant to supply "mixed wastepaper" in August 2005. But on examination, the Customs found that the consignment contained plastic carry bags, pet bottles, used clothes, shoes, metal cans and "dirty liquid emitting foul smell". Officials said the hazardous municipal waste had characteristics of "eco-toxic and infectious substances".
The US company then conceded that the consignment was sent to India by mistake and ITC shipped it to Ajman in UAE, only to have it returned with a warning.
After it returned to Tuticorin, a single judge bench passed a consent order and appointed a committee to inspect and suggest a solution. However, in November 2007, when the committee recommended re-export of 35 containers to the US, the company preferred to appeal, leading to Friday's judgement.
"Having received an undesired cargo from Evergreen, ITC should have shunted it back to the US only... why did ITC send the cargo to Ajman without even informing the US company?" the judges wanted to know.
Slamming ITC for negligence, the judges asked it to clear the garbage and hand over empty containers to a Tuticorin-based company.