The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed a Govt-owned gas supply company to pay Rs 64 lakh in compensation to the family of a girl who had died due to a gas leak in Jan 2015 in central Kolkata.
“Now the world knows that my daughter Sumantika Banerjee was a victim of gas leak & didn’t die of drug abuse,” Debasis Banerjee, the victim’s father, said in a telephone conversation from Jalpaiguri district in north Bengal.
Senior Environment lawyers said that even though the Green Tribunal had earlier slapped fines amounting to crores of rupees on companies for polluting the environment, it is a rare case that a company has been asked to pay a huge amount of compensation to an individual victim who had died of gas leak.
The bench of Justice SP Wangdi & expert member Satyawan Singh Garbyal, in a fifty-page judgment on Wednesday, directed the Greater Calcutta Gas Supply Corporation Limited to pay the victim’s father Rs64 lakh within one month.
Senior Officers of the GCGSCL refused to comment on the NGT’s decision.
The 21-year-old victim, Sumantika Banerjee, was pursuing masters in physics from the then Presidency College & was staying with 3 other women in a house in central Kolkata, as a paying guest. Her family was in Jalpaiguri district in north Bengal.
On Jan 4, Banerjee & a roommate, Subarna Lama, were found in an unconscious state in their room. The 2 were rushed to the hospital, where Banerjee was declared dead. Lama survived. The other 2 roommates were not present at that time.
Debasis Banerjee, father of Sumantika said that “Soon after the incident, some media had reported that my daughter might have died of drug abuse. By the time the actual news broke that my daughter died of gas leak & not drug abuse, the damage had been done. Neighbours & colleagues were looking down upon me as if we were the culprits. It was then that I decided to move court & fight it out”.
Police investigation & viscera report later revealed that the Sumantika died of inhaling coal gas. The gas leaked from a cracked pipeline laid down by the gas company just behind the window of the room where she was found dead. In 2016 the victim’s family moved the Green Tribunal seeking compensation for the death of Banerjee
Somnath Roy Chowdhury, Banerjee’s lawyer said, “As the death was caused by coal gas, which contains carbon monoxide & methane, it comes under schedule of the manufacture, storage & import of hazardous chemical rules, 1989. That’s why we moved the NGT as it was well under the purview of the Environment Protection Act of 1986. The plea of the gas company that the case comes under the purview of the consumer dispute redressal forum was rejected by the court as Banerjee was not a consumer & the gas was not leaked from any pipelines in any consumer’s house”.
The case went on for 4 years & the bench gave the Judgement through a video conference on Wednesday.
Banerjee told over phone from Jalpaiguri that “I can’t say that am happy. I can’t be happy as I have lost my daughter. No amount of compensation can bring her back. I am only satisfied that now the world knows that my daughter was not a drug addict & that she died because of gas leak”.