SUPREME COURT The Supreme Court of India is hearing a matter Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s). 230/2001 in which there have been several orders of consequence this year (e.g. 8 Feb 2017 & 16 Aug 2017) for protection of wetlands. In spite of several directions for identification, preparation of brief documents, implementation of rules 4, notification of wetlands under the Wetlands Rules 2010, hardly any progress has happened.
Rule 4 of Wetlands Rules 2010 applicable to Wetlands of size ≥2.25 ha
“National Wetland Inventory & Assessment” was filed in SC. This Brochure indicates on page 11 that 2,01,503 wetlands have been mapped at 1:50,000 scale. All these wetlands have ‘an area of more than 2.25 hectares’. As a first step, the ‘Brief Documents’ with regard to these 2,01,503 wetlands should be obtained by the Union of India from the respective State Governments in terms of Rule 6 of the Wetlands (Conservation and management) Rules, 2010.
SC directed the application of the principles of Rule 4 of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 to these 2,01,503 wetlands that have been mapped by the Union of India. The Union of India will identify and inventorize all these 2,01,503 wetlands with the assistance of the State Governments and will also communicate its order to the State Governments which will also bind the State Governments to the effect that these identified 2,01,503 wetlands are subject to the principles of Rule 4 of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, that is to say:
“(i) reclamation of wetlands;
(ii) setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries;
(iii) manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances covered under the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 notified vide S.O. No. 966(E), dated the 27th November, 1989 or the Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms/Genetically engineered organisms or cells notified vide GSR No. 1037(E), dated the 5th December, 1989 or the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundry Movement) Rules, 2008 notified vide S.O. No. 2265(E), dated the 24th September, 2008;
(iv) solid waste dumping: provided that the existing practices, if any, existed before the commencement of these rules shall be phased out within a period not exceeding six months from the date of commencement of these rules;
(v) discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities or towns and other human settlements: provided that the practices, if any, existed before the commencement of these rules shall be phased out within a period not exceeding one year from the date of commencement of these rules;
(vi) any construction of a permanent nature except for boat jetties within fifty metres from the mean high flood level observed in the past ten years calculated from the date of commencement of these rules;
(vii) any other activity likely to have an adverse impact on the ecosystem of the wetland to be specified in writing by the Authority constituted in accordance with these rules.”
Of the 2,01,503 wetlands greater than or equal to 2.25 ha, MoEF&CC has informed the court that the Space Application Centre in Ahmedabad has identified 1,75,740 wetlands (area greater than 2.25 hectares) while the remaining 26763 are rivers/streams which are not under the preview of the Wetlands Rules 2010.
JAN 2017: ‘No hoodwinking, file wetlands report in a week: SC cautioned Center Supreme Court (SC) cautioned the Centre against “hoodwinking” it on the number of wetlands and lakes in the country and set a week’s deadline for it to come out with a “holistic” report on the issue. The reaction came after the Ministry of Environment & Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) informed the court that the country has only 115 wetlands and 63 lakes across 24 States and two Union Territories.
According to affidavit, since 1987-88, an amount of Rs 780 crore has been released for undertaking various conservation activities in these wetlands and lakes. The court asked the petitioner to study the matter and even suggest whether justice could be done to the cause by sending it to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for effective monitoring. http://www.dailypioneer.com/todays-newspaper/only-115-wetlands-miffed-sc-gives-govt-a-week-for-fact-file.html (Daily Pioneer, 18 Jan. 2017)
FEB 2017: SC directs Centre to preserve over 2 lakh wetlands Emphasizing the important role of wetlands in maintaining ecological balance, the bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Prafulla C Pant directed the Centre to notify all 2,01,503 wetlands by inventorizing them and asked the states to provide details too. The bench set a deadline of June 30, 2017 to frame policy for preservation of wetlands. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/supreme-court-directs-centre-to-preserve-over-2-lakh-wetlands/articleshow/57049799.cms (The Times of India, 9 Feb. 2017)
MoEF&CC provided the Court a chart of proposals/brief documents that have already been received by the Union of India under Rule 6 of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010. The total number of wetlands covered in this document is 1683. The Court noted that ‘Many of these proposals/brief documents received by the Union of India contain deficiencies which have already been identified in the document handed over to us.’
SC directed in February 8 order ‘The Central Wetland Regulatory Authority will take up the rectification of deficiencies with the State Governments with promptitude and ensure that all these deficiencies are removed and complete proposals/brief documents are furnished within the next about one month so that the Central Wetland Regulatory Authority is in a position to take a final decision with regard to these 1683 wetlands and their notification, if required, on or before 31st March, 2017.’
There is no information /progress on notifications of these wetlands. (This and some other parts about SC proceedings are taken from ERC Update from Shri Pushp Jain.)
July 13, 2017: SC pulls up Centre for defying wetlands order SC blasted the Centre for not complying with its order to frame rules for preservation of wetlands and warned that it would put the environment secretary behind bars if the government failed to give a road map within a week for conservation of wetlands.
The bench also noted that although the government talked about its commitment to the Paris Accord on climate change, it was not concerned about environment protection in the country. “You have taken us for a ride and you are making proceedings in the Supreme Court a joke,” the bench said.
The court reminded the Centre that being a signatory to the 1971 International Convention on Wetlands, it was bound to frame a policy for their preservation. “How will you face the international community and what will you tell them about its implementation?” the court asked, slapping a fine of Rs 50,000 on the Centre. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/the-good-earth/sc-pulls-up-centre-for-defying-wetlands-order/articleshow/59587666.cms (The Economic Times, 14 July 2017)
During the hearing, the apex court also expressed disappointment at MoEF&CC ’s failure to explain how money given to states for conservation of Ramsar sites was spent. The MoEF counsel said it had written to states like Himachal Pradesh and was waiting for a reply.
The court said, “You write letters to states and they don’t reply? …The Ramsar convention was signed by the Government of India, not Himachal Pradesh… We are told that India is supporting the Paris accord (on climate change). This is the kind of support you are giving…,” said Justice Lokur. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/wetland-conservation-sc-pulls-up-govt-imposes-penalty/ (The Indian Express, 14 July 2017)
“There are two-three things. Huge amounts have been spent on it. We do not know where the money has been spent,” the bench told the counsel representing the Centre and asked as to “what steps have you taken on it?”
July 20, 2017 SC expresses concern over disappearance of wetlands During next hearing, the apex court expressed concern over “vanishing” of wetlands in the country. “So many of these wetlands have vanished. In 2015, there were floods in Chennai. The reports said that there was flooding as wetlands have vanished. In areas like Bhopal and Bengaluru, lakes have disappeared,” the bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
The bench also referred to a recent report and asked the Centre whether it was planning to denotify East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW). The government said there were reports that the West Bengal government was planning to denotify EKW, but it could not be done.
As per report, the Centre had in April informed the court that it has constituted a Central Wetland Regulatory Authority (CWRA), but the ministries of Tourism and Social Justice and Empowerment had not nominated an officer, not below the rank of a joint secretary, to the authority.
During the hearing, the top court had also directed various High Courts (HC) to monitor the management of 26 sites identified in the Ramsar Convention of 1971 on wetlands till there was some visible improvement as these were international heritage.
The apex court, which has been examining the matter since 2001, had emphasised the importance of conservation of wetlands, saying these were of “immense ecological importance” and there was no justification for the Centre not taking any prompt action. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/supreme-court-expresses-concern-over-disappearance-of-wetlands-in-india/articleshow/59685015.cms (The Economic Times, 20 July 2017)
Aug 2017 In the hearing on 16 August 2017, MoEF&CC passed the buck to State Governments ‘With regard to the furnishing of brief documents as well as rectification of deficiencies in the brief documents and protection of the wetlands under Rule 4 of the existing Wetlands Rules, we have been informed by learned Additional Solicitor General that there is no effective response from the State Governments.’
In the hearing on 16 August 2017, MoEF&CC passed the buck to State Governments ‘With regard to the furnishing of brief documents as well as rectification of deficiencies in the brief documents and protection of the wetlands under Rule 4 of the existing Wetlands Rules, we have been informed by learned Additional Solicitor General that there is no effective response from the State Governments.’ (http://supremecourtofindia.nic.in/supremecourt/2000/17346/17346_2000_Order_16-Aug-2017.pdf)
Oct 2017 Wetlands issue deserves very serious attention: SC to Centre The apex court, again expressing concern over the disappearance of wetlands in the country. “This wetlands issue deserves much serious attention. If there are no wetlands left, it will affect agriculture and several other things. It is a very, very important issue,” the bench, also comprising Justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, told the counsel appearing for the Centre.
During the hearing, the government informed the top court that the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 have been notified and it would replace the earlier set of guidelines which came into effect in 2010. The court, which listed the matter for hearing after four weeks, also said that a senior official from the environment ministry should be present on the next date of hearing. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/wetlands-issue-deserves-very-serious-attention-sc-to-centre-4874352/ (The Indian Express, 04 Oct. 2017)
Nov 9, 2017: The SC order of this date says that the petitioners wanted to amend the petition challenging the constitutional validity of Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017. The case was to be listed after the amended petition were to be filed. No further orders till date as we write this on Feb 3, 2018. (http://supremecourtofindia.nic.in/supremecourt/2000/17346/17346_2000_Order_09-Nov-2017.pdf)
SC Stays HC order banning construction in lakes area On Jan. 22, 2018, the SC has stayed Nainital HC’s order banning any construction within a radius of 2 km from major lakes in Nainital, including Naini lake. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/sc-stays-construction-ban-near-naini-and-other-lakes/articleshow/62624414.cms The HC in Nov. 2016 had imposed a blanket ban on any construction within 2 km from major lakes in Nainital. The HC also ordered a ban on cutting of trees within a five km radius of the lake. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/Uttarakhand-HC-bans-all-constructions-around-Naini-lakes-states-glaciers/articleshow/55296893.cms (The Times of India, 7 Nov. 2016)
SC hears case of Five Star Hotel in Udaisagar lake In Nov. 2017, the SC special bench of Justice J Chelameswar and Justice AM Sapre heard a writ petition filed by NGO Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti (JSS) regarding the construction of a five-star hotel by Mumbai-based developers Vardha Enterprises on the island situated in the middle of Udaisagar Lake in Udaipur.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing on behalf of JSS, requested the top court to direct the demolition of the said boundary wall and cargo jetty, to restrain the construction of the all-weather road, to mandate compliance with the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules of 2016, the Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016 and the air and water pollution enactments, and to prevent interference with the use by local population of the lake resources. http://www.livelaw.in/five-star-hotel-island-udaisagar-lake-construction-proceeding-violation-environmental-laws-submits-advocate-prashant-bhushan/ (Live Law, 28 Nov. 2017)
As per latest information, SC has transferred the case to NGT and hearing is going on. http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/nearly-a-lost-cause-59174 (Down To Earth, 30 Nov. 2017)
Maharashtra HC asks to replace mangroves’ panel member In Jan. 2017, Bombay HC directed the state govt to reconstitute a committee that was set up to protect and preserve mangroves in Navi Mumbai, by replacing the senior forest officer, its ex-officio member secretary. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/hc-seeks-google-maps-to-find-out-wetland-damage/articleshow/57029332.cms (The Times of India, 18 Jan. 2017)
In the same month, the Bombay HC said the state govt must equally take care of citizens’ interests as it did of builders and ruthlessly stop destruction of wetlands near Mumbai. The court also sought old and latest Google maps “to compare the extent of damage to the environment by virtue of damage to wetlands and in the future to ensure it can be restored to its original state”. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/hc-seeks-google-maps-to-find-out-wetland-damage/articleshow/57029332.cms (The Times of India, 8 Feb. 2017)
HC pardoning wetlands illegalities? In a strange development, showing HC openly pardoning the wetlands violations, the court observed that: “I have no doubt that there are encroachments on wetlands. Nobody can deny that. The only thing that remains is, what the authorities are doing to prevent, restore and restrain such destruction in future,” the court said, while hearing a PIL. “Now, we cannot do anything in places where buildings have already been constructed on wetlands. However, in future, in places like Mira-Bhayandar and Panvel, we have to see to it that mangroves are saved. We should ruthlessly stop further destruction,” Justice Kanade said. There is no way the court can save the remaining mangroves if they refuse to take actions against illegalities already committed. http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/business/personal-finance/take-steps-to-stop-encroachmentwetlands-hc-to-maharashtra-government-1003136.html?utm_source=ref_article (Money Control, Feb. 2017)
HC asks Govt to set up panels on wetlands fast The Bombay HC in Oct. 2017 directed the state govt to constitute the authorities under the Wetlands Rules 2017, instead of waiting for the three-month timeframe allowed under the rules. The govt was also asked to inform the court on the progress in the matter. The court was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Vanashakti regarding non-implementation of Wetland Rules 2010 in Maharashtra. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/set-up-panels-on-wetlands-fast-hc-tells-state-govt/articleshow/60976981.cms (The Times of India, 7 Oct. 2017)
According to the new guidelines issued by the Bombay HC appointed wetlands grievance redressal committee, destruction of wetlands on private land in the state will now attract a penalty. The govt would confiscate the land if the owners fail to pay this penalty. The guidelines were decided during the committee’s last two meetings. The panel also setup a website (https://www.konkanwetland.com/) to track complaints. Members of the committee told that this year they received 17 major cases of wetland destruction. First-information-reports (FIRs) were filed and penalties were levied in 11 of these cases. The remaining 6 were pending and currently under inquiry. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/cough-up-fines-for-wetland-destruction-or-pay-with-your-land-says-bombay-high-court-panel/story-aiyoDGbg4asE9Pvk0fhfvL.html (Hindustan Times, 2 Nov. 2017)
Uttarakhand HC asks for NEERI survey within 2 km radius of Naninital lakes In the April 2017, the HC Nainital asked National Environmental Engineering Research Institute of India (NEERI) to survey within 2 km radius of the lakes in Nainital within 6 weeks. The decision was taken following a PIL stating that the level of water in the Bhimtal lake was receding during the cutting of trees and construction of buildings around the water body. In Nov. 2016, the court had ordered a ban on construction of buildings within two kilometres radius of Naini lake, Bhimtal lake, Khurpatal lake, Sattal lake and Naukuchiya lake in the Nainital district. But the order has been stayed by SC this year in Jan. 2017. http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/dehradun/hc-asks-for-neeri-survey-within-2-km-radius-of-nainital-lakes.html (Daily Pioneer, 7 March 2017)
Delhi HC cancels Tata housing projects in Sukhna catchment In a major setback to the investors of Tata Camelot Housing Project, the Delhi High Court on April 12 held that the project cannot be allowed as it was well within the catchment area of Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh. (See the full order here and a detailed Economic & Political Weekly report on this here.) The HC order came on a plea filed by advocate Aalok Jagga against the grant of approval by various authorities to the Tata housing project near Sukhna Lake. The apex court had earlier stayed the ambitious housing project by reversing the go-ahead granted to it by the Punjab and Haryana HC, the SC had transferred the plea to the Delhi HC and asked it to decide the matter. http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/hc-s-no-to-tata-housing-project-near-sukhna-lake-in-chandigarh-117041200831_1.html (Business Standard 12 April 2017)
Chandigarh HC directed Panel on Sukhna Lake Hearing the ‘Save Sukhna Lake’ case in April 2017, the Court asked Chandigarh Administration whether it had formed a panel to devise a revival plan for Sukhna Lake. Interestingly, in August 2011, HC had directed the it to constitute a panel with a senior official on board to look into the issues related to upkeep, revival and maintenance of the lake. https://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/have-you-formed-panel-for-sukhna-revival-plan-hc-asks-chandigarh-administration/story-cLzTXNmRH7x2eckoP7D9PK.html (Hindustan Times, 20 April 2017)
During May 2017 hearing the Court asked Centre’s Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR) and MoEF&CC to depute one official each for the May 22 hearing to apprise the court on steps needed to revive the lake. The Court had taken suo motu notice of the depletion of the water level in the Sukhna Lake in 2009 and has been monitoring the case since then. https://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/hc-asks-centre-to-pitch-in-to-revive-sukhna-lake/story-gYCC6mcHgOgyh0tz3hvZFK.html (Hindustan Times, 2 May 2017)
In June 2017, hearing a separate dispute between Chandigarh Administration and Chandigarh Golf Club a different bench of HC asked the UT administration why the tertiary water cannot be used to fill Sukhna Lake, facing ‘extinction’. Later it asked UTAC to find out how much tertiary water was being generated in the city, capacity to treat that water and the quantity of water supplied to the club for watering the 61 acres of green belt. As per report, UTAC had finalised the tender for de-silting of lake for ₹20 lakh but work was not started. http://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/why-can-t-tertiary-water-be-used-to-fill-sukhna-lake/story-TMv606WrfCvDYh66App9uI.html (Hindustan Times, 18 June 2017)
Gujarat HC suo motu takes up wetlands preservation In a remarkable development, Gujarat HC on June 7, 2017 taking suo motu cognizance of the issue of protection of wetlands in Gujarat filed a PIL in this regard. In the very next hearing on following day the court sought a reply from the state authorities concerned over measures taken to preserve Gujarat’s main wetland, the Nalsarovar bird sanctuary on 12,000 ha and regarding its present condition. As per report, Gujarat has 17.56% of its area under wetlands which was shrinking. The Banni grassland and Nal Sarovar are the largest wetlands in the state. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/hc-files-pil-for-wetlands-preservation/articleshow/59025208.cms (The Times of India, 7 July 2017)
Jammu & Kashmir HC directs govt to demarcate wetlands area In its August 2017 landmark decision, J&K HC have directed govt to demarcate the wetlands and take measures to conserve water bodies in the Valley. The court also ordered immediate demarcation of wildlife forests, wildlife sanctuaries and conservation reserves by the concerned authority.
The court also ordered Commissioner Secretary Irrigation Department to convene a meeting and submit action plan regarding building interconnections between wetlands and rivers. The Court further asked, concerned Principal Development Authority to file fresh response about the details of map and network of wetlands interconnected with River Jhelum. http://www.risingkashmir.com/news/hc-directs-govt-to-demarcate-wetlands-conserve-water-bodies- (Rising Kashmir, 19 Aug. 2017)
West Bengal PIL filed against flyover project in EKW In Sept. 2017, a PIL has been filed in the Calcutta HC pleading for an immediate halt to the flyover project over EKW, claiming that the project will severely impact its ecology. As per Joydeep Kar, the HC appointed amicus curie on wetlands, the state government or any other authority has to take prior permission of the HC for any activity on the wetlands. http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pil-moves-against-flyover-project-in-east-kolkata-wetlands-117090801098_1.html (Business Standard, 7 Sept. 2017)
During next hearing the Government informed the HC that the flyover project had been sent to Central Wetland Regulatory Authority for approval thereby indicating that the project had already been passed by the EKWMA. Concluding the hearing the HC asked the Government to file an affidavit by Oct. 30 and directed the petitioner to file its reply by Nov. 15 following which the next hearing was expected in last week of Nov. 2017 but there is no further information available in the case. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/green-activists-slam-nod-to-ekw-flyover/articleshow/60503184.cms (The Times of India, 14 Sept. 2017)
NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL
Haryana Take steps to protect Najafgarh lake After Govt accepting the Najafgarh Jheel as a water body, the NGT directed Delhi government to take “appropriate steps in accordance with law” with regard to the Najafgarh lake in view of the statement made by Haryana government. The submission came in response to a plea filed by an NGO Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage (INTACH) seeking directions to Delhi and Haryana governments seeking revival of the ‘jheel’ (lake in Urdu), as almost equal parts of it fell in the two states. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/haryana-recognises-najafgarh-lake-as-a-water-body-4540106/ (The Indian Express, 13 Feb. 2017)
Delhi Don’t turn Purana Quila lake into waste-dumping yard: NGT to Delhi govt In May 2017, the Green Tribunal rapped the Delhi government over the poor condition of the iconic Purana Quila lake and directed it to ensure that it does not become a waste-dumping yard. Taking exception to non-compliance of its May 19, 2017 order to expeditiously restore all water bodies in the city, the green panel also asked the AAP government to explain why silt, sand and other debris have not been removed from the lake despite its specific direction. http://zeenews.india.com/environment/dont-turn-purana-quila-lake-into-waste-dumping-yard-ngt-to-delhi-govt-2028218.html (Zee News, 28 July 2018)
Uttar Pradesh NGT refused to cancel EC to real estate projects on Dadri wetlands In a sad turn of events, NGT in Sept. 2017, refused to cancel the environment clearance (EC) granted to Uttam Steels and Associates (Consortium) and the Shiv Nadar University and instead directed both to preserve the existing low-lying land of Dadri wetlands. The tribunal refused to agree with the claim by the petitioners that two of their buildings were located on wetlands as the area is not declared as a wetland as per the rules by the MoEF&CC. https://www.indiatoday.in/pti-feed/story/ngt-directs-up-govt-to-protect-flora-fauna-in-dadri-wetlands-1044672-2017-09-14 (India Toady, 12 Sept. 2017)
West Bengal NGT orders demolition Sri Sri Ravi ShankaroL’s building on EKW In October 2017, National Green Tribunal (NGT) eastern zonal bench, asked the EKWMA to demolish a three-storied building belonging to spiritual guru Ravi Shankar’s organisation Vaidic Dharma Sansthan (VDS) within three months and also consider on imposing a penalty on the violator. During the course of the hearing case in the NGT, VDS had filed a writ petition in the Calcutta High Court, which ordered EKWMA to give VDS a hearing. Following the hearing, the EKWMA concluded that the construction was raised on farmland, which is illegal, and was also done without permission from the EKWMA and civic authorities. On October 24, EKWMA said that the application of VDS had no merit. The next day, NGT issued the demolition order. http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ngt-orders-demolition-of-building-of-ravi-shankar-s-charitable-body-in-kolkata-wetlands/story-5frmmLP7ic5TRXYSMzYWwO.html (Hindustan Times, 27 Oct. 2017)
Karnataka NGT seeks report in Bellandur lake fire The sixth fire on Bellandur Lake has led NGT to ask Karnataka govt to submit a time bound action plan by Jan 29, 2018. BDA also has claimed that it was accidental/ incidental, but it was contradicted by the petitioners. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/submit-time-bound-action-plan-on-bellandur-lake-ngt/article22516573.ece (The Hindu, 25 January 2018)
Compiled by Himanshu Thakkar (firstname.lastname@example.org)
& Bhim Singh Rawat (email@example.com)