Guest Blog by Manoj Misra (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, Delhi
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in a landmark judgment pronounced on 13 January 2015, has set an ambitious road map for a rejuvenated river Yamuna by 2017. Naming it as “Maily se Nirmal Yamuna rejuvenation project, 2017” the green court in the judgment spread over almost 100 pages has detailed steps necessary to achieve what all previous efforts have miserably failed.
Let us see how the adjudication spread over some 3 years played itself out and what is there in it to provide a sense of hope that once implemented it could actually not only help rejuvenate perhaps the most threatened river in the country, but also set a road map and principles for similar rejuvenational efforts on other similarly placed rivers in the country and beyond.
It was in February 2012, that an application (6 of 2012: Manoj Misra Vs Union of India and others) was filed at the NGT. It detailed the Yamuna story at length and highlighted how a natural water body in its flood plain in NCTD (National Capital Territory of Delhi) was being knowingly buried under construction debris and municipal solid waste. The application invoked section 14 & 15 of the NGT Act, 2010 that provides an opportunity to an applicant to raise an issue of public importance where substantial question relating to environment is involved and to seek its restitution.
The prayer was to direct the respondents to immediately stop any further encroachment and dumping of solid waste in the river bed; removal within a fixed time frame of all debris and other solid waste dumped in the river bed and to restore the natural water body to its former self.
The said application was made after a sustained petitioning to various authorities including the Lt Governor of Delhi had failed to elicit any worthwhile action on the ground.
Later in October 2013 another application (300 of 2013: Manoj Misra & Madhu Bhaduri Vs Union of India and others) was filed against ongoing concretisation and covering of a storm water drain (Kushak drain) in south Delhi and government plans to cover portion of another storm water drain (Shahdara link drain) in east Delhi to raise a commercial establishment in the name of Dilli Haat. It had been highlighted in the petition that the storm water drains are a natural product of the city’s topography and essential to a safe and secure city in absence of which the vulnerability of the city to urban flooding during high rainfall events would get worse. It had also been asserted that what are today termed the storm water drains were originally the seasonal tributaries of river Yamuna that originated from and linked the Delhi ridge with the city’s life line river. The risks involved with concretisation and covering of these drains and the advantages of keeping them open and green had also been highlighted.
It is to the credit of the NGT as an institution and the relevant government agencies as willing implementers of its (NGT) directions that almost 50,000 tonnes of construction debris and other MSW (municipal solid waste) was actually removed from the river bed in a period of some 6 months.
It is also a measure of ingenuity on the part of the NGT bench (headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar) when it clubbed the two petitions observing their seminal links and importance in the restoration and rejuvenation of the river Yamuna, an issue that has plagued the authorities for over two decades without any notable success despite more than Rs 1500 crores having been spent to ‘clean’ it under the Yamuna Action Plans.
So, it is little wonder that the NGT in its single judgment (in the two applications) dated 13 January 2015 has first given itself (page 39) in affirmative the challenge to the query “would it ever be possible to clean river Yamuna and restore its wholesomeness”? and then has given not only an ambitious name to its order but highlighted the importance and urgency of the matter in following words (para 94):
“We are not oblivious of the herculean task which will be required in carrying out the ‘Maily se Nirmal Yamuna’ Revitalisation Project, 2017, but we are of the firm view that any further deferment in taking stern and serious steps for preventing and controlling pollution of river Yamuna, is bound to expose Delhi and its residents to grave environmental disasters.”
The PRINCIPAL COMMITTEE constituted by the NGT to oversee the implementation of the judgment comprises Special Secretary (Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change – MoEF in short); Joint Secretary (Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation – MoWR for short); Chief Secretary (Government of NCTD); Vice Chairman, Delhi Development Authoriy (DDA); Commissioners of all three Municipal Corporations of Delhi (MCD); Commissioner (Delhi Jal Board – DJB); Secretary (Department of Irrigation and Flood Control, GNCTD); Concerned Secretaries of government of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand; Prof. Brij Gopal (formerly with Jawaharlal Nehru University), Prof. CR Babu (Delhi University), Prof. AK Gosain (IIT – Indian Institute of Technology -, Delhi) and Prof. AA Kazmi (IIT, Roorkie).
The Principal Committee has been mandated to report progress to the NGT on a quarterly basis.
The judgment while accepting in their entirety – expert reports dated 19th April 2014 (on restoration and beautification of river Yamuna flood plain in NCT of Delhi); 2nd August 2014 (river Yamuna) and 13th October 2014 (drainage system in Delhi and DJB action plan on sewerage in the city) as submitted by the expert committees co-chaired by the Additional Secretary (MoEF) and the Vice Chairman, DDA – has outlined a 28 point action plan. The said action plan to be implemented by various agencies and overseen by a NGT constituted “Principal Committee” could be summarised as under:
Provision of environmental flow in Yamuna, downstream of the barrage on river Yamuna at Hathnikund (some 200 km upstream of Delhi)
- CS (Chief Secretary) of NCTD and Haryana to meet the Principal Committee to agree on the Environmental flow in the river Yamuna
- A committee headed by Secretary, MoEFCC to consult with CS of UKH, HP, UP, and Haryana and decide in the matter
Restoration of Yamuna flood plains (River Zone) in NCR of Delhi
- Definition and delineation of River Zone in NCR (National Capital Region) in accordance with the report of the expert committee dated 19 April 2014.
- Identification, listing (of all constructions in the River zone) and removal of encroachments and unauthorised construction from the river Zone in accordance with the report of the expert committee dated 19 April 2014
- Formation of a Yamuna flood plains Restoration plan including controlled dredging in parts
- Prohibition of agricultural farming for another 2.5 years (till Yamuna is rejuvenated) in flood plain in Delhi and restricted floriculture and silviculture in the river Zone
- Removal of remaining debris from the flood plains
- Implementation of penal provisions for throwing waste (Rs 5,000 fine) and dumping of MSW (municipal solid waste) and debris (Rs 50,000 fine) into river Zone (as well as the drains) set by the NGT on the basis of Polluter Pays Principle
- Raising of special ghats /sites on the river bank where puja samagri etc could be safely disposed.
Restoration of storm water drainage system in Delhi
- Dismantling of construction on drains where less than 85% work has been done, after taking due approval from the NGT
- Cleaning drains & keeping them free of obstruction & prevention of any dumping of MSW in them
- Tracing of missing 44 natural drains in the city
- Controlled dredging of drains
- Identification of sites where dredged material from river Zone and from the drains shall be deposited before their safe disposal
Implementation of the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) plan of 13 October 2014 for ensuring cessation of sewage flow into the storm water drains
- Installation of additional STPs, CETPs and making existing ones functional
- Recycle and reuse of treated sewage and industrial effluents in the city so that no sewage enters the drains
- Maintenance of STPs and CETPs
- Fly ash to be safely disposed from within river Zone
- Baseline of river pollution to be set by the DJB, CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) and DPCC (Delhi Pollution Control Committee)
TIME LINES DIRECTED BY THE NGT
- All relevant agencies to prepare and submit their respective ACTION PLANS to the Principal Committee within 4 weeks of the judgment
- All existing 23 STPs to become fully functional within 2 months of the judgment
- Action Plan for the new 33 STPs to be in place within 3 months of the judgment
- All remaining debris / MSW in the river zone to be removed in 4 months of the judgment
- Cleaning including dredging of all drains within 4 months of the judgment
- CS of HP, UK, NCTD, Haryana and UP to meet within 4 weeks the Secretary of MoEF and MoWR to prepare an immediate action plan required to ensure proper environmental flow in river Yamuna throughout the year.
- All three MCDs to submit within 3 months a report on the missing 44 drains to the Principal Committee
- Sites where sludge from select dredging of river and drains shall be deposited before disposal to be identified by NCTD and nearby states within 3 months of the judgment
While the judgment is most welcome. It has perhaps for the first time extended the reach of the urban stretch of a major river to include the city’s storm water drains, and integrated actions for their respective restorations. The judgment shall prove a landmark and go down in history if it can also ensure the long eluded rejuvenation of river Yamuna by keeping to its professed timelines for action/s.
Is the new AAP government in NCT of Delhi listening? Is the Union Government, its agencies and the MCD bodies and neighbouring states ruled by it willing to cooperate? Will Media, Civil Society and NGT ensure that these steps are indeed implemented? A lot will depend on answers to these questions.
 The full judgment is available with the author, with SANDRP and on NGT website.