Featured image showing 36 Wetlands in India requiring urgent attention as per a 2014 petition filed in apex court (Image Source: Live Mint)
In the third part of Wetlands Review 2016, SANDRP presents an account of major decisions taken by respective Courts for the protection of Wetlands in India.
In a significant development in April 2016, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed all State Governments to submit a complete list of Wetlands under their jurisdiction. The green court was hearing a plea alleging commercial conversion and resultant destruction of several large ecologically important Wetland areas across the country in absence identification and notification by respective State Governments.
The court also asked the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to submit the list of States that had approached it with Wetlands conservation plans.
Interestingly, in the following hearing it was revealed that only 15 States had responded to NGT orders but none of them had notified any Wetlands in their states. Few states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh (only nodal officer), Madhya Pradesh and Sikkim had set up nodal departments for maintenance of Wetlands. Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Chandigarh were leant to be not implementing any aspect of the Wetland rules. Delhi Govt also remained unresponsive to the order. It was also disclosed that the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority (CWRA) had been inactive for long time as the previous authority’s term expired in March 2015 and the new team was only recently constituted.
Meanwhile the NGT during further hearing, in May 2016 directed all State Governments and Union Territories to identify and notify Wetlands in at least 5 (for smaller States) to 10 districts (for bigger States) under their jurisdiction by July 2016. Notably the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 were passed under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, making it mandatory for the government in coordination with the states to identify and notify all Wetlands in the country within a period of two years.
During a hearing in July 2016 the tribunal ordered the (CWRA) to hold a meeting with States and Union Territories on monthly basis for identification and notification of Wetlands in a time bounded manner. The court also asked the MoEF&CC to furnish information on affidavit mentioning the numbers of meeting held by CWRA in past years with dates and minutes of the meeting.
It also asked all the State Governments to file affidavit with status of notification of Wetlands including numbers of protected and unprotected Wetlands identified by them. The tribunal also issued notices to Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand for their non-appearance in the case and warned of coercive orders against them for neglecting the Court order in future.
But the state of affairs is still so worrisome that even Central Government has found only 115 Wetlands and 63 lakes across 24 States and 2 Union Territories in last 16 years. This was revealed by MoEF&CC in a written affidavit submitted to Honorable Supreme Court (SC) of India in January 2017. The Ministry affidavit also read that since 1987-88, an amount of Rs 780 crore has been released for undertaking various conservation activities in listed Wetlands and lakes.
Cautioning the Ministry against “hoodwinking” the court on the issue and giving it a final opportunity, the SC directed the Ministry to come out with a “holistic” report on Wetlands.
Uttar Pradesh In May 2016, pulling up State Govt for not taking effective steps to protect Wetlands, NGT directed it to identify and notify all Wetlands in the State within two months. In response, pleading for more time, the Govt informed the Court that there were nearly 1,34,000 Wetlands in the State and identification and notification was not possible in two months. Notably the NGT had already in March 2015 ordered the State Government for the same. As per report, the Government had not complied with the order. The tribunal again in July 2016 sought an explanation from the State Govt.
In the same month, the tribunal issued notices to State Forest Department and several State Agencies over felling of trees and construction activity that was reportedly taking place within the Surajpur Wetland area for the development of an eco-park. The Wetland is located in a reserved forest under Gautam Budh Nagar, forest division. During next hearing the tribunal restrained the Government for conducting any construction work in the Wetland area. It also directed it to identify the extent of Wetlands in the reserved forest area.
In a separate case, NGT in September 2016, issued notices to various State Government Departments including MoEF&CC over rampant dumping of waste and encroachments of Arthala Lake which is located close to Hindon River in Ghaziabad. The notices were given in response to a petition seeking removal of all illegal constructions and encroachments on the lake area. A distillery and hospital were discharging untreated effluents in the lake.
In one more case, in January 2016, following NGT directions Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found that Coco Cola’s Hapur plant was discharging untreated effluents in a nearby water body. The tribunal had asked CPCB to conduct inspection of the plant in 2015 too, even then the plant was found polluting the water sources and thus causing problems to local farmers.
In the same month, expressing serious concerns on allegations of sewage water flowing into Kathauta lake in Gomtinagar, Lucknow High Court directed concerned authorities to file a report on action taken to stop pollution of the lake.
Rajasthan In an important development, while taking cognizance of a petition that highlighted the deteriorating conditions of lakes in Udaipur city, Rajasthan HC in January 2016, ordered the State Government to form Rajasthan Lakes Development Authority (RLDA) by 1st of March 2016.
Observing that non-existence of conservation measures was damaging the lakes, the Court also directed the government to make a transitory committee till the formation of RLDA and furnish a detailed compliance report of its directions given during the hearing on February 15, 2015.
Further, criticizing Udaipur Municiapl Corporation (UMC) and the district administration for turning a blind eye to the sorry state of lakes, HC instructed the UMC and District Collector to take immediate steps for the protection of all the lakes in Udaipur and draw plan to stop sewerage from entering into lakes. The Govt in Dec 2016 passed a proposal to take Pichhola, Fatehsagar and Udaisagar lakes in Udaipur under prohibited zone.
In December 2016, while hearing another petition revealing detrimental impact of salt mining around Sambhar Salt Lake, Central Bench of NGT directed the Government to cancel allotments of salt pans in Sambhar Salt Lake that fell within the Wetland area.
Earlier in a 2013 petition in the SC the salt manufacturers were accused of digging unauthorized bore wells around the lake and exploiting the groundwater. The case was later transferred to NGT. Earlier a fact-finding report in 2010 had highlighted the illegal business of brine extraction at Sambhar Lake. The report had mentioned that 15-20 bore wells were operating in every 1,618.7 square meters of land lowering the groundwater level by almost 60 meters in the area. The recommendations made in the report for restoration of the lake have to be implemented before 2017 monsoon.
Sambhar Salt Lake is listed under Ramsar Site. It is spread over 7,560 sq km but over the years its area has been encroached upon for sand mining and agriculture activity. Apart from this, erratic rainfall and construction of number of storage dams and check-dams in the catchment area of the lake has caused significant decline in the amount of water reaching to the lake. On top of all this, the over-exploitation of ground water by private salt manufacturers has depleted the water table in lake area. Interestingly, in 2010 the Government had commissioned a master plan for the conservation of the lake which is still unimplemented.
Maharashtra In June 2016, the Bombay HC reprimanded the State Govt for seeking modification of its March 2013 order which banned construction and reclamation on Wetlands. “You want to permit destruction of Wetlands? You have not completed the exercise of identifying Wetlands in the state” observed the court. Following this, the Govt in July 2016 withdrew its plea. Earlier, the HC in 2005 had banned construction activities within 50-metre of mangrove areas. In 2014 it also prohibited reclamation and construction on Wetlands areas across the State. In Court’s opinion only creation of separate machinery could protect the Wetlands from rapid pace of urbanization.
In a significant development in July 2016, emphasizing on the need to protect the Wetlands, the HC directed the Government to constitute a committee under divisional commissioner of the Konkan region. The committee was to be formed within six weeks with a responsibility of ensuring compliance to the Court’s order. As per Court order, the committee is supposed to set up a grievance redressal mechanism for dealing with complaints relating to destruction of Wetlands.
Kopri Wetland Report and NGT In January 2016, the Western Bench of NGT directed MoEF&CC to survey Wetlands in Thane’s Kopri area and table a report within three months on the reclassification of the 20 hectares of Kopri Wetland in Thane east. The tribunal asked it to visit the Wetlands and mangroves and classify the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) in the area.
The direction was given on a plea alleging that MoEF&CC had wrongly reclassified the Wetland in Kopri from CRZ1 to CRZ 3, thus allowing construction activities in this green zone in Kopri. The petitioner also informed the tribunal that the particular stretch of land in Kopri and Mulund was indicated as a flood prone area in the Disaster Management Plan. An area falling under CRZ 1 is a no-construction zone while areas under CRZ 3 have no such restriction.
Hearing the petition in April 2016, tribunal extended the deadline by three months. But then again, in July 2016 the ministry was given third extension of two weeks time to submit the report. The report was finally submitted on 28 July 2016, however the Ministry refused to take the responsibility of classifying the area as CRZ1 or CRZ3 claiming that it was the duty of the state. Following this, the tribunal directed the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) to respond to the MOEF&CC regarding the preparation of the CZMAP by August 2016.
In a separate case, in January 2016, NGT constituted an experts panel from Gujarat based Maharaja Sayajirao University to undertake audit of Rs 8 crore funds spent by the Kolhapur Municipal Corporation (KMC) in Rankala Lake restoration and scrutinize the Rs 125-crore plan. Interestingly the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board had shown reluctance for the same and a Sangli based engineering institute had demanded a higher fees of Rs 60 lakhs for the audit which the court found inconvenient. The panel was set up following allegation that fund spent to make the lake pollution free had made no difference and the second phase work proposal under National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) had little to do with pollution problem in the lake.
Telangana While dealing with a plea that sought protections of lakes from pollution during idol immersion, the Hyderabad HC on April 2016 directed the Government to make separate enclosures for protection of Hussain Sagar and other lakes in the city and Ranga Reddy district. The HC also asked Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) to work jointly for restricting the height of idols and take coordinated steps to clean the Lakes.
In July 2016 the Hyderabad HC directed the Government to conduct a survey of all lakes under the purview of HMDA and fence them by the end of December. The Court also ordered it to remove any unauthorized constructions found within the buffer zone of the lakes. The direction was given on a petition highlighting indiscriminate encroachments on the lake bed of Ramanthapur Lake. According report, about 501 lakes are situated within the area covered by HMDA, out of which 176 lakes fall within the jurisdiction of the GHMC.
Karnataka In a first of its kind decision, the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (ACMM) Court of Bangalure in March 2016, issued notices against senior officials of Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) for discharging sewage into the city’s lakes. Finding prima facie case against BWSSB under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, the court also ordered filing of criminal cases against incumbent BWSSB Chairman, two former chairmen and 10 engineering staff.
Interestingly the decision was taken on the complaint of Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). The KSPCB had filed the case in 2015, following a complaint by its committee accusing BWSSB as the biggest polluter of the lakes. Ironically, BWSSB chairman is also an ex-officio member of KSPCB.
In May 2016, while staying construction work of two commercial projects coming up close to Bellandur-Agara Wetlands in Bengaluru, the NGT quashed the clearances given to the projects and directed the State Environmental Impact Assessment Agency (SEIAA) to amend the environmental clearance of the projects.
Increasing the lake buffer zone area from 30 meters to 75 meters, the Green Court also directed the Government to allow no further construction in buffer zones of 75 meters around the lake and 50 meters from the edge of primary storm water drains and demolish all existing structures in these zones. Welcoming the order, activists have claimed that proper implementation of the order can revive about 93 lakes in the city.
While upholding the NGT order of increasing green zones around lakes and Wetlands from 30 to 75 m, the SC in Aug 2016 instructed all builders to withdraw projects from the buffer zone of lakes and Wetlands in the Bengaluru city. Refusing to halt demolition drive started by Civic Agency to decongest lakes outlet drains to prevent flooding, the Sc directed the Government not to permit any construction activity in the green zones.
West Bengal While hearing the case of East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW), the Green Tribune in July 2016 directed State Government to furnish details on the amount of sewage released into the EKW. The order was issued after a petition expressing concern over the inadequate amount of wastewater and sewage being released into the Wetlands resultantly affecting the unique organic sewage treatment system and the livelihoods of nearly 1 lakh local fishermen of the area. The local activists were also apprehensive that the prohibition on release of untreated wastewater into Wetlands under the Wetland Rules, 2010 would further aggravate the situation.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP
To read first part of the report, kindly visit India’s Wetlands 2016: Encroached and Polluted
To read second part of the report, kindly visit: Wetlands Review 2016: Government Actions