Before the announcement of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to close the Malbros liquor factory, the Punjab Pollution Control Board did not renew its consent to operate (Pic. Courtesy ANI)
Chandigarh: Prior to Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s January 17, 2023, public announcement of his decision to close the polluting Malbros liquor factory, in in Zira subdivision, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) did not renew its “consent to operate” the factory that expired on December 31, 2022.
The PPCB’s periodic consent to operate any industrial unit in the state is mandatory to keep it on steam as per relevant environmental protection laws. The management of the industry, big or small, is supposed to apply for renewing the PPCB’s consent periodically after depositing the requisite fee. The Malbros management applied for the same and also deposited the fees.
Principal Secretary, Environment, Rahul Tiwari confirmed, “the consent to operate the unit was valid up to December 12, 2022, and the company had applied for renewal of the consent. There were some shortcomings in the case and the application was returned back to the applicant by the PPCB.”
The question now being asked is if the PPCB – an autonomous body – had not renewed its consent to operate the unit, why did the CM give the impression after 17 days that he ordered its closure?
The Malbros factory, technically and legally, seized the right to function after December 31, 2022, when it did not have PPCB’s consent to operate. It means that it stood practically closed.
Sources disclose that those aiding and advising CM Mann told him that he should not press for passing a written order as prior to his live announcement on Facebook (FB) the factory stood closed by the PPCB’s action.
The Sanjha Morcha leaders have refused to lift the 6-month-long dharna from the gates of the Malbros factory till a copy of the written order is given. It has put the government in a tight spot, as technically, it is the autonomous PPCB’s action that led to the closure of the liquor manufacturing unit 17 days before CM’s announcement.
Sources disclose that legal advice is being mustered now so that a legally valid speaking order could be passed to satisfy the protesters and the courts.
The Indianarrative.com contacted the chairman of the PPCB, Adarsh Pal Vig, to answer whether “you are in the process of renewing the consent to operate (Malbros), which expired on December 31, 2022?” The second query sent to the chairman was, “if the consent is not being renewed, what are the reasons behind it.?” The WhatsApp message sent at 9.33 pm on Wednesday did not receive any response till the filing of this report on Thursday. Telephone calls also did not yield results.
Chief Secretary V.K. Janjua was also asked when CM Mann would pass a written order on the matter. “Please wait for some time,” he replied.
On the other hand, the Malbros factory management has decided to move the court against PPCB’s objections to its application seeking renewal of the consent to operate and the subsequent announcement of the CM to close the unit.
Earlier, the Malbros management had moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the state government’s inability to clear the ‘dharna’ leading to huge financial loss. The court in two of its interim orders asked the state to deposit Rs. 20 crore with the registry payable to Malbros.
With the closure of the unit, litigation is likely to escalate as the results for the second round of air and underground water pollution tests are yet to be received. The results of these tests would have decided whether the liquor factory was responsible for damaging the environment as claimed by the villagers or all was hunky dory. Any action against the factory after the receipt of the test results would have helped the government in court.