Urban Rivers

Top Ten Judicial Actions on Urban Rivers 2022: Executors Deliberately Delaying, Diluting, Defying orders

(Feature Image: The order is subject to the orders of the SC which is pending. NGT on Nov. 24, 2021ordered the BMC to deposit within three months an environmental penalty of ₹28.20 crores to the CPCB for discharging raw sewage into the city creeks, rivers and drains. HT Photo)

During past one year, the judicial bodies including National Green Tribunal, Supreme Court, various High Courts have passed several orders and made critical observation while dealing with multiple issues afflicting Urban Rivers in India. This report highlights top ten such judicial interventions across India. The stories underline that the responsible agencies particularly pollution control boards and district, state and union governments have been failing miserably in timely and efficient implementation of these judicial orders, some of which are quite remarkable. If the executive bodies do not show right spirit and seriousness in enforcing the existing rules and court orders the state of India’s urban river only go downhill.    

1. NGT directs MoJS to devise mechanism to control river pollution A bench headed by National Green Tribunal (NGT) Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said there has been continuous failure of statutory mechanism for preventing pollution of water and hardly any accountability has been fixed for such serious failures. “MoJS may devise an appropriate mechanism for more effective monitoring of steps for control of pollution and rejuvenation of all polluted river stretches in the country.” The said mechanism may be called “National River Rejuvenation Mechanism” (NRRM) or given any other suitable name. NRRM may also consider the observations with regard to setting up of National/State/District Environment Data Grid at appropriate levels as an effective monitoring strategy,” the bench, also comprising Justice S K Singh, said.

The tribunal directed that chief secretaries of all states and Union Territories must work in mission mode for strict compliance of timeliness for commencing new projects and completing ongoing projects. “Other steps in terms of action plans for abatement of pollution and rejuvenation of rivers be taken effectively. The process of rejuvenation of rivers need not be confined to only 351 stretches but may be applicable to all small, medium and big polluted rivers, including those dried up,” the tribunal said.

It directed the chief secretaries of all states and UTs to personally monitor progress at least once every month and the NRRM every quarter and reiterated that accountability for failure to comply with the direction for payment of compensation will be of the concerned chief secretaries. The NGT had earlier formed a Central Monitoring Committee to prepare and enforce a national plan to make over 350 river stretches across the country pollution free. The tribunal had said that there has been deterioration in quality of water in rivers in spite of the Water Act which was enacted way back in 1974 which was intended to bring about improvement. https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/ngt-directs-ministry-of-jal-shakti-to-devise-a-mechanism-to-control-river-pollution/2036091  (25 Feb. 2021)

2. Ahmedabad Stop pollution of Sabarmati river: HC The Gujarat High Court (HC) came down heavily on the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) for not curbing pollution in the Sabarmati river, noting that untreated effluents continue to be dumped into the river.

– The court held that there is a nexus of civic body officials, SPCB officials, and industries, with the government apparently “protecting polluters”. The Division Bench of Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Justice V.D. Nanavati also said that it would make a surprise visit to check the river’s condition. The court is hearing a suo motu petition initiated by it following media reports of sewage water and industrial effluents not treated in accordance with set norms being dumped into the river. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/stop-pollution-of-sabarmati-river-gujarat-high-court/article36233572.ece  (01 Sept. 2021)

Riverfront not a flowing river: HC task force The HC appointed Joint Task Force (JTF) has submitted that the waterbody in PM Narendra Modi’s pet project Sabarmati Riverfront is a stagnant water body, which has been polluted by illegal dumping of industrial effluents through Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) waters. The JTF constituted by the Gujarat HC informed the court, “The waters at the Sabarmati Riverfront do not have an e-flow of water and scientifically no discharge could be allowed to be dumped into such a water body,” said Rohit Prajapati, a member of the JTF. “The Sabarmati Riverfront waters are in a bad shape as the STP discharges are released into it. These STP have been legally allowed by the AMC to receive industrial effluents,” said Prajapati. https://www.theweekendleader.com/Headlines/69344/modis-pet-project-sabarmati-riverfront-not-a-flowing-river-gujarat-hc-task-force.html  (24 Sept. 2021)

‘Involve all citizens to revive river’ The bench of Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice V D Nanavati issued a slew of directions to authorities and asked the JTF to take assistance of experts and institutes to revive and rejuvenate the Sabarmati. The issue HC had taken suo motu cognizance of improperly treated sewerage being discharged into the river from the STP near Pirana. The amicus curiae Hemang Shah inspected the places and came up with a report on basis of which the HC constituted the JTF.

As the polluting industries are located in the Gujarat Industrial Development Corp estates, the HC has issued notice to GIDC. The court has sought report on measures ordered by next hearing on Oct 21. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/involve-all-citizens-to-revive-river/articleshow/86663265.cms  (01 Oct. 2021)

Polluting units to be named, shamed & prosecuted: HC Industrial units found to have discharged pollutants into the Sabarmati river in Gujarat will not be provided water and power. They will also be penalised, named and shamed, the HC said in a recent order. All such polluting units will also be banned from participating in any industrial fair, public-private partnership events, etc, the two-judge bench of Justice B Pardiwala and Justice Vabhavi D Nanavati added in suo motu cognizance of the slow death of the river. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/pollution/dying-sabarmati-polluting-units-to-be-named-shamed-and-prosecuted-says-gujarat-hc-79541  (05 Oct. 2021)

HC raps officials as river remains highly polluted Sabarmati river remains highly polluted despite the spending of nearly ₹200 crore that the Centre had allocated to curb pollution in the river from 2014-15 to 2017-18. But the situation has only worsened, inviting wrath from the HC. The Court observed that the root cause of pollution in the Sabarmati was the lack of accountability on part of the authorities, as there appears to be a nexus between the officials and industries that discharge untreated effluents into the river stream, polluting its water. This is not for the first time the issue of critical levels of pollution in the Sabarmati has surfaced. In 2019, a report by non-governmental organisation Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) revealed that 120 km of the river, before it meets the Arabian Sea in Gujarat, was ridden with industrial effluents and sewage. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/hc-raps-officials-as-sabarmati-river-remains-highly-polluted/article37155066.ece  (25 Oct. 2021)

Gujarat high court warns all 7 CETPs To bring down pollution levels in the Sabarmati, the Gujarat high court on Dec 3, 2021 focused on industrial effluent discharge and ordered for efficient functioning of Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs), which are being operated by private companies and monitored by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board.

– When Rohit Prajapati, an environment activist who is part of the HC-constituted joint task force, expressed concerns about the functioning of CETPs except the one at Narol, the judges said, “If nothing happens in next three months, we will order the closure of all seven CETPs whatever may be the ultimate outcome. That will be our order. We are going to watch what steps are taken against the companies running theses CETPs. Our main goal is to see that these CETPs and 14 STPs start functioning well.”

– The HC pulled up GPCB for its lethargic action and lack of monitoring of the CETPs, which “appear dead facilities”. It hauled up a GPCB official for creation of an “irreversible situation”, who is to be questioned about the monitoring of CETPs and to know the plan to improve the situation.

-HC also said: “your Phase II (of Sabarmati RFD Project) is going to add to this problem”. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/sabarmati-river-pollution-gujarat-high-court-warns-all-7-cetps-of-closure/articleshow/88084328.cms  (04 Dec. 2021)

‘GPCB is just for namesake’ The HC on Dec 6, 2021 lambasted the GPCB for its poor oversight of 7 CETPs in Ahmedabad. The bench of Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice V D Nanavati held GPCB solely responsible for the pollution caused by improper treatment of industrial effluent and sewage discharged into the Sabarmati river. For the inefficient functioning of the CETPs, the judges said, “It is very unfortunate that the GPCB never paid any attention so far to the dismal and absolute poor functioning of the CETPs. It was the statutory duty of the GPCB to take action at an appropriate time, more particularly, when it realized that the CETPs are hardly treating industrial effluent. It could be said that the GPCB is just for name’s sake. It has not only let the people of Gujarat down but has dragged them to a potential health hazard. We hold the GPCB wholly responsible for bringing about this kind of alarming situation.” The HC also asked whether the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) should have encashed the bank guarantees of the companies running the CETPs. The court has sought an action plan from the AMC, GPCB and the state government for repair and overhauls of all seven CETPs. “We want to know why no action has been taken till this date against the companies running the CETPs,” the court asked.

The court directed GPCB to furnish details about the last visit and inspection of CETPs and if it brought to the notice of the companies any deficiency. ToI

– The court directed GPCB to furnish details about the last visit and inspection of CETPs and if it brought to the notice of the companies any deficiency. The GPCB will have to say what action it has taken to ensure that CETPs function at optimal level and in accordance with the rules and regulations. The court’s rebuke came after the authorities concerned confessed that only three of 14 STPs out and one CETP of seven are functioning in a reasonable manner. All the other STPs and CETPs are functioning at 30% of optimal levels and untreated sewage is being directly discharged into the river.

– “A very grim picture emerges today. Untreated sewage and untreated industrial effluent in a huge quantity is being discharged straight into the Sabarmati river and this is why a stretch of almost 200 km of this river is now dead,” the court noted.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/gpcb-is-just-for-names-sake-says-hc/articleshow/88131569.cms  (07 Dec. 2021)

Till Dec 6, 2021, 303 factories in industrial estates surrounding Ahmedabad have had their sewage connections severed for illegally pumping untreated effluents into the domestic sewage network. After being rebuked by the high court, the AMC and the GPCB had coordinated a drive against the errant factories. Officials said that more than 500 units have been pumping their untreated waste into the sewage system which ultimately is let into the Sabarmati near Vasna-Narol Bridge. Most of these units are located in areas such as Shahpur, Amraiwadi, Bhaipura, Thakkarnagar, Naroda, Sardarnagar, Indrapuri, Behrampura, and Danilimda. Almost a month ago, the AMC admitted to the high court that “untreated or partly treated” industrial waste from “improperly working” effluent treatment plants (ETPs) was being “discharged into the Sabarmati directly”. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/sewage-lines-of-303-units-snapped/articleshow/88131567.cms  (07 Dec. 2021)

HC has suggested to the Gujarat Govt to prioritise river cleaning, including repair and overhauling of STPs over Sabarmati RFD. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/prioritize-river-cleaning-over-riverfront-phase-ii/articleshow/88131518.cms  (07 Dec. 2021)

‘Sewage used to dilute industrial waste’ The JTF constituted by the high court visited three major CETPs and was surprised to find the supply of raw sewage of the AMC for “dilution” purposes, which is against the Consolidated Consent and Authorisation (CCA) issued by the GPCB.

ToI

The JTF in its October report pointed out that drawing sewage from outside industrial estates should be immediately stopped as industrial discharge and domestic sewage have different sets of parameters and one should not be used to dilute the other. “The AMC is yet to disconnect these sewage supplies to CETPs,” said a senior GPCB official.

The JTF in its report mentioned that it visited a CETP in Odhav and found that it was drawing 0.5 MLD of AMC sewage for dilution. Similarly, a CETP in Naroda used a 3 MLD mixed waste water stream consisting of sewage, food and textile waste, while another CETP was receiving 2 MLD of treated sewage from AMC’s Vinzol STP for dilution. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/amc-sewage-used-to-dilute-industrial-waste-task-force/articleshow/88245380.cms  (13 Dec. 2021)

720 printing units to remain closed for month During a hearing on Dec. 24, the HC ordered AMC and GPCB to take criminal action against industrial units that still continue to discharge their effluents in sewage water. Following this, the screen printing association issued a notice to its member units, situated in Behrampura and Danilimda, on Dec. 25 and instructed them to keep units closed from December 27, 2021 to January 27, 2022 or until further notice.

Till the drainage connections with CETP are completely established the members units should stall all production activities. ToI

The association stated in its notice that the work for drainage connections of member units with CETP has been 96% complete. Till the drainage connections with CETP are completely established, the members units should stall all production activities. The association has also stated that if any member unit is found open during this period, the AMC, GPCB and the association would take strict action against the defaulting unit.

It has also threatened to send the defaulting unit’s name to the HC, which has already ordered AMC for public shaming of polluting units and their owners. The printing association also told its member units that since all drainage pipelines are diverted to CETP, each of the members should deposit its share of contribution for this diversion within two days. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/river-pollution-720-printing-units-to-remain-closed-for-month/articleshow/88497041.cms  (26 Dec. 2021)

A division bench of the Gujarat HC on Dec. 24 directed the AMC to disconnect “all other supplies” in residential societies found to be discharging their sewage directly into the Sabarmati river and initiate criminal prosecution of office-bearers of such societies. Other supplies for a residential society can indicate, electricity and water supply. The oral direction came while the bench was hearing a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) on Sabarmati river pollution, following a submission by amicus curiae Hemang Shah that the joint task force constituted by the court has found illegal connections by residential societies that discharge its sewage directly into the river. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/sabarmati-river-sewage-gujarat-hc-7689385/  (25 Dec. 2021)

HC seeks report on state of ETPs The HC has sought reports on the condition of ETPs and STPs after hearing the suo motu public interest litigation pertaining to tackling Sabarmati river pollution in Ahmedabad. In the order by the division bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and VD Nanavati dated January 7 2022,  the court has issued four key directives.

– The court has directed that AMC and GPCB along with the court-constituted JTF undertake the inspection of all the ETPs of the textile industries who have moved before the HC seeking relief after their units were shut down owing to non-adherence to pollution norms. The court has directed to submit a report on the condition of the ETPs be submitted to the court before the next date of hearing. The court is due to hear the matter next on Jan 21.

– The court also directed GPCB to look into the proposal made by Arvind Ltd of using zero liquid discharge technique of water treatment and further directed GPCB to take an appropriate decision at the earliest and give a final nod in the form of CCA or by any other legal mode, in this regard. Meanwhile, the bench directed AMC to continue its drive of detecting and identifying illegal industrial connections into sewer and snap all such connections at the earliest and to ensure that the power supply as well is disconnected.

– The direction for disconnecting power supply came following submission by the amicus curiae that units where illegal industrial connections were disconnected, were managing to discretely run their units in the midnight hours and that they are discharging the industrial effluent by other illegal mode and manner. The court noted in its order that “This should be stopped at the earliest.” https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/sabarmati-river-pollution-gujarat-hc-effluent-treatment-plants-7722259/lite/  (14 Jan. 2022)

HC seeks status report on deep-sea discharge project The HC has asked the state government to place an appropriate report on status of its deep-sea effluent disposal pipeline project for Ahmedabad region on the next hearing on January 21 and it commented that if this gets materialised, it could save the Sabarmati river. During the last hearing on the suo motu PIL on release of improperly treated wastewater in Sabarmati river causing pollution, the bench of Justice J B Pardiwala and Justice V D Nanavati inquired with the advocate general about the proposed 122-km deep-sea pipeline project.

The court was informed that a tender with estimation cost of Rs 1,647.4 crore was invited online by the Gujarat Water Infrastructures Ltd in October 2020. There was no information about what happened after the tender was floated. The high court said, “We are not experts and therefore, we would not like to express any opinion as regards the feasibility of this project, etc. However, we would like to know from the state about the current status of the said project.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/hc-seeks-status-report-on-deep-sea-discharge-project/articleshow/88886518.cms  (14 Jan. 2022)

AMC differs in submissions to HC, NGT The AMC made different submissions to the NGT and the HC with respect to its knowledge of stormwater drains flowing into Sabarmati river as well as its action plan to put a stop to untreated wastewater flowing into the river through these drains, records show.

While AMC submitted before the Gujarat HC on April 22 that it did not have the details of the number of stormwater drain outfalls for the entire stretch of the river, adding that it would find out the same and put it on the court’s records soon, the civic body informed the NGT-constituted joint committee that for a particular stretch of Naroda to Hansol in the city, there were three such outfalls in the specific stretch.

Also while AMC informed the Gujarat HC on April 22 that it will work out an action plan to put a stop to discharge of wastewater in the river through such storm water drain outfalls, the report submitted to the NGT-constituted joint committee’s on April 22, indicates that AMC already submitted an action plan with short and long-term measures with respect to the three specific stormwater drain outfalls , which includes construction of a 60 MLD sewage treatment plant at Kotarpur, expected to be commissioner by June 2023.

In further proof of ongoing pollution of Sabarmati river, an NGT-constituted joint committee has observed on the basis of field observations, information provided by AMC and sample analysis results, that the storm water drain in Naroda–Hansol area “carries untreated sewage and also intermittently industrial effluent is also discharged” in this storm water drain, which is ultimately discharged in Sabarmati river. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/sabarmati-pollution-ahmedabad-civic-body-differs-in-submissions-to-hc-ngt-7895533/  (01 May 2022)

3. Vadodara Implement Vishwamitri River Action Plan in 3 Months: NGT The Green Tribunal has directed the authorities to implement the Vishwamitri River Action Plan in Vadodra including the steps for removal of unauthorised structures, demarcation and protection of flood plain zone within three months. A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice (Retired) Adarsh Kumar Goel noted that Vishwamitri river is one of 351 identified polluted river stretches, identified as such by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

“Demarcation of the entire flood plain zone of the river needs to be undertaken. Further, steps are required for plantation and maintaining the integrity of the river in totality. “While directing consideration of all the issues by the applicants, we reiterate the direction for implementation of the Vishwamitri River Action Plan (VRAP) including the steps for removal of unauthorised structures, demarcation and protection of flood plain zone and other action points as per the river restoration plan,” the bench said. The action should be completed by the concerned authorities within three months, it said.

The Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC), however, told the NGT that the project has not yet been finalised and it was only at conceptual stage. The project was to beautify and rejuvenate the river for the benefit of the general public. It will increase the flood carrying capacity, clean the river and protect the habitat of the wildlife, the VMC said. https://science.thewire.in/law/implement-vishwamitri-river-action-plan-in-three-months-ngt-tells-authorities/  (28 May 2021)

NGT has issued the order based on a plea moved by a group of concerned citizens led by environment activist Rohit Prajapati. The group of citizens had moved the environmental watchdog stating that the project violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006, requiring prior environmental clearance, after assessment of the impact of the project on environment. “We (concerned citizens and experts) as a team are willing to work collaboratively with the concerned authorities toward the implementation, in letter and spirit, of the NGT order,” said Prajapati.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/vadodara/map-flood-plain-zones-remove-encroachments/articleshow/83070895.cms  (30 May 2022)

In its order, the NGT has observed that the river consists of catchments, floodplains, tributaries, ponds, river-bed and adjoining ravines which, along with the soils and vegetation on both sides, is the river’s natural mechanism to retain the additional water, prevent floods and provide habitat for various species. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/baroda/gujarat-vishwamitri-river-project-gets-green-tribunals-go-ahead-7336041/  (30 May 2021)

The details of press release from Rohit Prajapati, Paryavaran, Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara issue on May 29, 2021 can be seen here. https://sandrp.in/2021/05/31/drp-nb-31-may-2021-worrying-dam-water-storage-at-the-onset-of-sw-monsoon/ 

The latest reports suggest that the VMC has not prepared the VRAP so far, though it has been asked for the same by GPCB first in August 2021 and again in May 2022.

4. Cuttack No permanent structures on Mahanadi bed: NGT panel The NGT appointed committee in its final report has recommended ban on construction of permanent structures on the 424-acre reclaimed Mahanadi river bed upstream of Jobra barrage in Cuttack. In the affidavit, CPCB’s Regional Director Mrinal Kanti Biswas said the joint committee stressed on the need to follow National Disaster Management Authorities (NDMA) guidelines, 2008, while implementing any concept for utilisation of Baliyatra ground.

The panel recommended prohibition on construction activities like public infrastructure, art galleries, museums, etc. However, it raised no objections to construction of parks, gardens, sports facilities, open air markets like craft bazaar, food stalls and open air auditorium. “Any development activity in this area can be suitably planned keeping in mind the possible submergence of the Baliyatra rehabilitated area in at least once in 25 year flood,” the committee said.

Taking on record the affidavit, a bench of Justice B Amit Sthalekar (Judicial Member) and Saibal Dasgupta (Expert Member) fixed January 27, 2022 as the next date for hearing on the matter. The bench also directed State counsel Janmejaya Katikia to file a reply to Pattnaik’s petition and the committee’s report. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2021/dec/08/no-permanent-structures-on-mahanadi-bed-national-green-tribunalpanel-2392976.html  (08 Dec. 2021)

Permanent construction on Mahanadi floodplains Banned NGT has ordered a ban on permanent construction on the floodplains of the Mahanadi river until further orders. The order came following a petition filed that called the Baliyatra River Front Improvement (BRFI) project, under which the construction was being done, an attempt to monetise the river bed for commercial purposes. The plea further stated that the project will reduce the water-retention capacity of the river at Jobra Barrage at Cuttack and ruin the environment and riverine ecosystem. https://weather.com/en-IN/india/news/news/2022-02-12-ngt-bans-permanent-construction-on-mahanadi-rivers-floodplains  (12 Feb. 2022)

The NGT ordered the constitution of a 7-member committee comprising environmentalists to study the ecological and hydrological aspects and vulnerability of reclaiming the floodplains of the river and make detailed recommendations identifying the steps required for protecting the floodplain zone. The committee has been directed to submit its report within three months. The tribunal asked both the applicant as well as the Odisha government to place their respective point of views before the committee. The CPCB would be the nodal agency to carry out the entire exercise.

Pradip Kumar Pattnaik had moved the NGT, alleging sand filling in the Mahanadi river bed within the water area of Jobra Barrage at Cuttack could cause damage to the environment and the riverine ecosystem. According to the petitioner, the project called BARFI is an attempt to monetise the river bed for commercial purposes, which will reduce the water retaining capacity of the river at Jobra Barrage at Cuttack. The project would also obstruct free flow of water at the river bed, besides causing floods in the city. In a similar case filed in NGT, Biswajit Mohanty, environmentalist, alleged the BARFI project envisaged filling up of the river area close to the embankment with sand. About 72 acres of land had been reclaimed at Jagatpur. The river bed height has been raised by dumping huge quantity of sand, and the river has been pushed back into the middle. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ngt-directs-odisha-not-to-undertake-permanent-construction-in-mahanadis-flood-plain-area/article65051730.ece  (15 Feb. 2022)

5. Odisha HC asks SPCB, Cuttack civic body to test water quality After a gap of 2 years, the High Court has taken up the issue of Kathajodi pollution and sought reports on the water quality at the point of discharge of untreated sewage from Cuttack city into the river at Khan Nagar. A division bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice RK Pattanaik has directed the CMC and SPCB to depute a team to collect water samples at the point of discharge at Khan Nagar, do a quality test and submit the report before it on Saturday (March 26).

Earlier this week, the bench heard the petition filed by Khan Nagar Khapuria Silapanchal Puja Committee in 2016 and the petitioner’s counsel Khirod Rout placed a video clip and photographs of discharge of untreated effluent into the Kathajodi river. The bench also issued notices to the Chairman and Managing Director of Water Corporation of Odisha (WATCO) besides, Member Secretary of the OSPCB and a representative of CMC to remain present during the hearing on March 26. WATCO was directed to take immediate corrective action. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2022/mar/25/orissa-high-court-asks-pollution-watchdog-cuttack-civic-bodyto-test-water-quality-2434071.html  (25 March 2022)

Kathajodi river situation is alarming, SPCB informs HC SPCB has informed the Orissa High Court that the unchecked discharge of untreated sewage from the city into Kathajodi river at Khan Nagar is alarming. The court had sought a report from the SPCB on the water quality at the spot where it is discharged into Kathajodi river. In pursuance of the order, the central laboratory of SPCB submitted a test report of the samples taken from the water flowing in the Kathajodi river at that spot. During the hearing of the PIL on March 28 2022, Member Secretary of SPCB K Murugesan who was present in virtual mode stated before the court that test reports indicated a high coliform count and the presence of fecal coliform was far above the permissible limit. Murugesan described the situation as very alarming.

Untreated sewage being discharged into Kathajodi river in Cuttack. (Photo: Express)

Taking note of it, the division bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice RK Pattanaik directed the CMC Executive Engineer to file by April 4 an affidavit listing the steps taken to ensure that the untreated sewage water is not released to the river. The bench further asked SPCB member secretary to file an affidavit explaining what kind of interventions are necessary by the other municipal corporations to reduce the discharge of untreated effluents into the rivers, nallahs, and streams in the State. The next hearing will be on April 4. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2022/mar/30/kathajodi-river-situation-is-alarming-pollution-watchdog-informs-hc-2435841.html  (30 March 2022)

CMC passes buck to Railways The Orissa HC on April 4, 2022 issued notice to the East Coast Railways (ECoR), Khurda, on the issue of construction of main drain crossing under the railway track at Matrubhaban for flow of sewage from the city to Matagajapur where a STP is located. The court was hearing a PIL on discharge of untreated sewage into Kathajodi river at Khan Nagar filed by general secretary of Khan Nagar Khapuria Silpanchala Puja Committee Prafulla Kumar Sahoo in 2016.

The CMC counsel Debashis Nayak claimed before the court that the work on main drain-1 crossing under the railway track at Matrubhaban was entrusted to ECoR on deposit work basis since 2014. For it, the OWSSB had made a payment of Rs 14.85 crore to ECoR. But it has not completed the work till date, Nayak told the court. Taking note of it, the division bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice RK Pattanaik posted the matter to April 8 and sought ECOR’s reply to the CMC claim by then. Accordingly, the bench issued notice to ECoR, Khurda through Assistant Solicitor General of India Prasanna Parhi. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2022/apr/05/water-pollution-cmc-passes-the-buck-to-railways-orissa-hc-issues-notice-2438146.html  (05 April 2022)

3 more cities under HC scanner for river pollution The Odisha HC has directed presence of secretaries of the municipal corporations of Bhubaneswar, Rourkela and Sambalpur over discharge of untreated sewage and polluting effluents into the rivers within their jurisdiction. The court was hearing a PIL on pollution of Kathajodi river due to unchecked discharge of untreated sewage from Cuttack city at Khan Nagar, when the situation of other major civic bodies was brought to its notice. SPCB member secretary Kailasam Murugesan on April 4, 2022 filed an affidavit indicating the deteriorating water quality in the downstream of major urban local bodies such as Cuttack, Bhubaneswar and Rourkela due to discharge of partially treated or untreated domestic waste water into river bodies.

While issuing notices, the division bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice RK Pattanaik directed the secretaries to remain present online on the next date of hearing on April 8.The bench said, “The secretaries of the three corporations shall inform the court of the steps taken for installation of STPs and complying with the norms specified by the SPCB regarding discharge of effluents into the rivers within their respective jurisdictions.” ‘The Orissa Water Supply and Sewerage Board (OWSSB) will inform the court on the next date the current status of completion of the 16 MLD STP at Matagajapur in Cuttack. A representative of the OWSSB shall remain present on the next date in the court,’ the bench directed. SPCB member secretary Kailasam Murugesan on April 4, 2022 filed an affidavit indicating the deteriorating water quality in the downstream of major urban local bodies such as Cuttack, Bhubaneswar & Rourkela due to discharge of partially treated or untreated domestic waste water into rivers. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2022/apr/06/three-more-cities-under-orissa-hc-scanner-for-river-pollution-2438615.html (6 Apr 2022)

No further reports are available on this issue.

6. Kochi NGT slams govt over SWM Brahmapuram The NGT came down heavily on the Kerala govt over the continued ineffective SWT of Kochi’s Brahmapuram waste plant, stating that the administration failed in protecting citizens’ right to a clean environment. NGT said that there was no meaningful action for complying with the SWT Rules, 2016 and handling of solid waste, in spite of repeated directions in the last two years. The tribunal’s direction came while hearing a case seeking direction to take effective steps for infrastructure development for collection, storage, segregation and disposal of tonnes of waste, termed legacy waste that has accumulated over the years in Kochi’s Brahmapuram.

The tribunal said that as shown from a report by the SPCB, the samples clearly show that the parameters of environmental safety are not being met. The tribunal noted that the Kochi municipal corporation is still continuing unauthorised operations and work is yet to start for bio-mining, while pointing out that compensation has been assessed but not recovered. “The affidavit of the Chief Secretary does not show that any effective action has been taken on the ground. Thus, the situation is far from satisfactory. One wonders whether the officers dealing with the matter lack in competence,” the bench said.

Failure to uphold environmental rule of law is no different from maintaining law and order and protecting the citizens against crimes, the bench observed. Continuing violation of environmental norms is not only violation of rights of citizens, but also has potential for damage to the public health. “It is unfortunate that in spite of several orders of this Tribunal for the last two years, the officers concerned have only paid lip service to the issue. There is thus a clear governance deficit which needs to be urgently remedied at the appropriate highest level in the state”, the bench said. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/will-prosecute-officers-ngt-slams-kerala-govt-over-solid-waste-management-kochi-142240   (27 Jan. 2021) More information: https://ejatlas.org/conflict/brahmapuram-solid-waste-processing-plant

The State-Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC) on SWM had informed the NGT that the leachate from the dumping site of Kochi Corporation at Brahmapuram remains a major source of pollution of the Kadambrayar. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/leachate-from-brahmapuram-polluting-kadambrayar-slmc/article30967117.ece  (03 March 2020)

Collector to submit report on river pollution to NGT In the wake of rising pollution levels in Kadambrayar, district administration has taken measures to prepare the report at the earliest and submit it to the NGT before February 20. At a meeting of district planning council (DPC), P T Thomas, MLA, moved a resolution demanding urgent steps to stop the pollution. “Many of the local bodies on the banks of Kadambrayar depend on the river for meeting their drinking water needs. But, the river water has become so polluted. A private textile firm at Kizhakkambalam has been dumping chemical waste into the river,” the MLA said.

“A few years ago, there was a Supreme Court order stopping functioning of blending and dyeing units’ operation from Tirupur. Then, a private firm set up its dyeing unit at Kizhakkambalam. Now, the chemical waste from the dyeing unit is being dumped into Kadambrayar. This pollutes the water making it unsuitable for drinking. That’s why I moved a resolution demanding action against those polluting the river. Now, the district collector will be submitting a report to the NGT regarding Kadambrayar pollution,” Thomas said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/kochi-collector-to-submit-report-on-river-pollution-to-ngt/articleshow/80745022.cms  (08 Feb. 2021)

NGT moots underground sewage scheme to check river pollution The NGT has asked the Kerala government to implement an underground sewage scheme (UGSS) in local bodies to resolve the menace of dumping untreated sewage into rivers. “If any additional STPs are required, that also must be included in action plan… If such proposals are made and forwarded to the government through proper channel, then the Chief Secretary, State of Kerala, is directed to look into the matter and take necessary steps to get administrative and financial sanction for the same and provide all assistance to the local bodies to implement it,” stated the order issued by the tribunal on May 12, 2022.

A view of the Konothupuzha filled with water hyacinth. | Photo Credit: FILE PHOTO

The Bench said it could be taken up as an action plan to be implemented throughout the State to resolve the problem of river pollution caused by the discharge of untreated sewage. The tribunal suggested the setting up of a permanent committee at the State-level with Principal Secretary for Environment as chairman, and the secretaries of Revenue, Irrigation and Public Works departments and the local administration as its members to prepare an action plan to prevent the dumping of untreated sewage into rivers. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/ngt-moots-underground-sewage-scheme-to-check-river-pollution/article65416416.ece  (15 May 2022)

7. Srinagar Doodhganga: NGT slashes Rs 3 cr penalty on Govt NGT has slashed a penalty of Rs 3 crore on the erring officers of the J&K government and polluters for not taking steps to control pollution and illegal mining in Doodh Ganga and Mamath Kul in Budgam.

The NGT order said that the State be held liable to pay an interim compensation of Rs 1 crore each under all the three heads (solid waste, liquid waste, and Illegal mining) which is to be deposited in a separate account of Deputy Commissioner Budgam to be utilised for the restoration of the environment. The bench headed by Justice A K Goel said, “The violations found include dumping of waste on the banks of the river, discharge of untreated sewage into the river, unregulated illegal mining activities, and failure to protect the embankments of the river.”

The NGT order reads: “Once such serious violations have been found by the State authorities, failure to take stringent action shows apathy to the obligation of the State under the constitution, particularly the Public Trust Doctrine of ensuring clean environment by protecting rivers and other natural assets.  The attitude of indefinitely waiting for funds from outside agencies is not merely ignorance of the law but the failure of responsibility. The environment being part of Right to Life under the constitution, such pleas are legally untenable and impermissible. It is for the State to arrange resources for its inalienable and basic responsibility.” https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/kashmir-todays-paper/doodh-ganga-pollution-illegal-mining-ngt-slashes-rs-3-crore-penalty-on-govt  (10 March 2022)

The tribunal directed the J&K chief secretary to take immediate action to remedy the situation and take coercive measures against the erring irresponsible officers for acting in contempt of directions of the Supreme Court and NGT, and causing harm to the environment and public health. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/chandigarh-news/environmental-violations-pay-1-crore-as-interim-relief-ngt-tells-j-k-admn-101646848179713.html  (09 March 2022)

The petitioner Dr Raja Muzaffar in his application filed before NGT said that large quantities of pesticides, solid and liquid waste were being dumped into Doodh Ganga and Mamath streams by Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Municipal Committee Budgam. He further submitted that the Government had not provided any facility of waste disposal for people in rural areas of Chadoora and with the result that waste is also being dumped in the Doodh Ganga.

“No STPs has been established by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation or any other Government Body in the entire stretch around river Doodh Ganga as a result of which all the untreated sewage from residential, commercial establishments, shopping malls, butcher houses, poultry shops, laboratories, diagnostic centres and domestic sewage are directly discharged into the river without any scientific treatment,” the petition reads. It added that a large number of Municipal Solid Wastes are unscientifically dumped on the banks of river Doodh Ganga and during the present rainy season there is a grave danger of the entire waste to be flowing into the river which is a tributary to River Jhelum. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/front-page-2/pollution-in-doodh-ganga-mamath-kul  (23 Oct. 2021) Details of case can be seen here. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/ngt-pollution-crisis-doodh-ganga-mamath-kull-of-kashmir-joint-committee-to-analyse-water-quality-184229  (25 Oct. 2021)

8. Dehradun HC stays further construction on river beds  The Uttarakhand High Court (HC) on April 8, 2021 directed the state government and district administration of Dehradun to ensure that no further construction is raised on the river beds near Sahastradhara in Doon Valley. The court has also directed the district magistrate to inspect the area and ensure that illegal plotting and construction is immediately stopped. The directions came from the bench of Chief Justice RS Chauhan and Justice Alok Kumar Verma as the court was hearing a PIL filed by Doon based social activist, Ajay Narain Sharma.

The petition alleged that the riverbed land was being fraudulently turned into Banjar land and sold to private parties. Sharma said that the encroachment has been made in the upper region of Sahastradhara road on a rivulet named Aamwala Ki Rao which is now facing existential crisis because the construction and illegal plotting has led to the change in the course of the rivulet. “Even in such ‘jal magna bhoomis’ (water holdings), revenue records are being systematically converted into banjar bhoomi and construction has been allowed to come up & flourish, which is changing the character of the said rivulets in a pristine area of Doon Valley, even as the Doon Valley has been a notified Eco-Sensitive Area since 1989,” read the petition.

The court has now given three more weeks to the VC to file his report and listed the case for further hearing on May 6. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/uttarakhand-hc-stays-further-construction-on-river-beds-near-sahastradhara-in-doon-valley/articleshow/81975263.cms  (09 April 2021)

No further construction near Sahastradhara The HC has directed the Dehradun district magistrate (DM) and Mussoorie Dehradun Development Authority (MDDA) V-C to conduct a survey with his set of officers to come up with an in-depth probe about how much encroachment has been done in the riverbed land near Sahastradhara in Dehradun.

The court had previously asked for an in-depth report with specific details. On Aug 16, 2021, the district administration failed to provide specific details regarding the encroachment on the riverbed after which the court asked them to come up with another one on Sep 23 when the next hearing for the case is to be held.

Last month, Sharma was given police protection after he was attacked by four unidentified men in his house who allegedly wanted him to back out from this particular case. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/hc-directs-dm-for-survey-to-ensure-no-construction-in-sahastradhara-riverbeds/articleshow/85380499.cms  (17 Aug. 2021)

HC summons DM, revenue secy in case of riverbed encroachment In a PIL related to encroachment of riverbed of Rispana tributary, the HC on Oct. 29, 2021 summoned DM Dehradun, secretary revenue department, Commissioner Dehradun Municipal Corporation (DMC) and VC, MDDA to appear before it on Nov 10.

A division bench comprising chief justice RS Chauhan and justice Narayan Singh Dhanik gave these directions while hearing the PIL filed by activist Ajay Narayan Sharma. In April, the high court had stayed any further construction on riverbed land of Rispana tributary in Sahastradhara region of Doon Valley in Dehradun district while hearing the PIL. The court has summoned these officers to exactly what has happed in the riverbed land and what action has been taken so far. https://www.pressreader.com/india/hindustan-times-east-up/20211030/281732682703054  (30 Oct. 2021)

During a previous hearing, the HC had directed MDDA to pinpoint such encroachments for the court. Subsequently, the MDDA served notice to several people. However, the civic body told the court that only the Dehradun district administration can take punitive action against the encroachers. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/encroachment-along-doons-rau-river-hc-asks-secy-revenue-dm-municipal-commissioner-mdda-v-p-to-appear-in-court/articleshow/87376734.cms  (30 Oct. 2021)

9. Mumbai SC instructs BMC to stop polluting water bodies The Supreme Court on Aug. 13, 2021 declined to stay an order of the NGT, dated October 2020, which rapped the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)  for discharge of raw sewage into city creeks, rivers and drains. The SC said prescribed pollution norms are being violated, and directed BMC to expedite compliance with NGT’s orders which includes paying environmental compensation to the tune of ₹34 crore, in addition to future penalties.

View of polluted Mithi river. HT file photo

BMC had filed a civil appeal before the SC in March, seeking a stay on NGT’s directions issued in response to PIL by NGO Vanashakti. The Apex court also directed that within a period of two weeks, the commissioner shall file an affidavit before NGT “categorically indicating the steps which have been taken to comply with the directions of NGT, particularly with regard to ensuring compliance with the requisite standards for the discharge of effluents including municipal waste and sewage.”

At present, only 1 of the 8 operational STP – the 37 MLD in Colaba – in the city is compliant with the CPCB latest discharge standards. The existing 2,025-km-long sewer network services only 84% of Mumbai’s developed area and 68% of the city’s population, as per BMC. Due to these shortcomings, there are still 93 openings across the city and suburbs which continue to discharge untreated sewage directly into creeks and drains. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/sc-upholds-ngt-order-instructs-bmc-to-take-steps-to-stop-polluting-water-bodies-101628959628359.html  (14 Aug. 2021)

In a relief to Municipal Commissioner I S Chahal, who was summoned by the NGT in a case on sea pollution, the Supreme Court said the commissioner need not be present in person before the tribunal. The apex court added that since corporation and officials are engaged in controlling the pandemic, they should be given reasonable time to file compliance. The SC also asked the NGT not to initiate coercive action against the commissioner. However, the SC refused to stay the NGT proceedings in the matter of discharge of untreated sewage in sea and water bodies. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/sea-pollution-case-relief-for-bmc-commissioner-from-ngt-order-7453927/  (14 Aug. 2021)

A six-judge bench of the NGT on Wednesday (Nov. 24, 2021) ordered the BMC to deposit within three months an environmental penalty of ₹28.20 crores to the CPCB for discharging raw sewage into the city creeks, rivers and drains. “The amount may be spent on restoration of the environment by making a restoration plan to be approved and monitored by the CPCB. The CPCB may decide on the plan submitted within one month of such submission,” reads the order by NGT chaired by justice Adarsh Kumar Goel. The order is subject to the orders of the Supreme Court which is pending. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/2820-crores-penalty-for-discharging-sewage-ngt-panel-to-bmc-101637774425205.html  (24 Nov. 2021)

Ahead of Supreme Court hearing on February 17 over the discharge of untreated sewage into the city’s creeks, drains and rivers, the BMC on Saturday (Feb. 12) floated a tender to install floating pollutant traps, or trash nets, at various stormwater drain outfalls in the city to prevent the flow of solid waste into the sea. There are at least 85 such outfalls across the city transporting sewage and solid waste into the Arabian Sea. Officials said that nets will be cleaned regularly through labourers of appointed contractual agencies which carry out desilting works.

The BMC was directed to take this step in November last year by the NGT, which also directed it to deposit within three months a penalty of ₹28.20 crore with the CPCB for discharging raw sewage into the city creeks, rivers and drains. In October 2020, the NGT had first slapped a fine of ₹29.75 crore over the same violations, which are yet to be paid by the BMC. The NGT’s November 2021 order is subject to pending orders of the Supreme Court. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/mumbai-news/bmc-to-install-nets-at-stormwater-outfalls-to-prevent-solid-waste-from-entering-sea-101644762190676.html  (17 Feb. 2022)

10. Mathura NGT calls for action against floodplain encroachment NGT directed the DM)of Mathura to initiate action against “encroachment” of the Yamuna floodplain after a joint committee comprising statutory authorities submitted its report confirming some “unauthorised” activities in the area. The committee submitted its report after visiting the site on Jan 12-13, 2022. The report suggested the demarcation of boundaries of the river bank. Responsible authorities must be identified for the protection of the floodplain, it added.

“We do not find any reason to reject the report, which is also backed by photographs. Accordingly, the report is accepted,” stated the tribunal during a hearing last week. In his plea to the tribunal, applicant Behari Lal Chaturvedi stated that the Yamuna Mission, which was founded in 2015, had an “evil eye on the ghats” skirting the Yamuna river. “Though they claimed to preserve, beautify, and cleanse the holy river, their acts and deeds, so far, have established the fact that they are perfect encroachers…for wrongful gains,” he alleged.

The joint committee report, which was submitted to the NGT last month, observed that the Yamuna Mission constructed about 25 to 100-metre-wide earthen corridors on the Yamuna river banks, which stretch about six-eight km. In the corridor, a lot of barbed wire fencing and small cemented brick walls were made. Some sewage effluent drains were also diverted. However, no permission was granted to them for carrying out the construction on the bank.

While hearing Chaturvedi’s plea, the tribunal directed the DM to take action by implementing recommendations of the joint committee along with the district forest officer, Mathura, and coordinating with the concerned departments. “Demarcation of the floodplain zone be done and development of a green belt and other river-front development activities should be carried out without any unauthorised and unregulated encroachments,” the order stated. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/agra/uttar-pradesh-ngt-calls-for-action-against-yamuna-floodplain-encroachment/articleshow/90332800.cms  (20 March 2022)

In December 2021, the tribunal had directed a joint committee of the CPCB, SPCB, Mathura district magistrate and executive engineer, upper division, Agra canal, to file within 2 months, a factual and action taken report in connection with the alleged encroachment of Yamuna floodplain by Yamuna Mission in Mathura. In his plea, applicant Behari Lal Chaturvedi said that the mission was encroaching on Yamuna floodplains in the name of preserving and clearing the river and undertaking a plantation drive. He filed photographs showing construction on the ghats and copies of the various complaints made to the authorities. Next hearing on Feb 28, 2022. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/agra/ngt-seeks-report-from-govt-on-yamuna-mission-encroaching-on-floodplains-in-mathura/articleshow/88347533.cms  (18 Dec. 2021)

Some More Relevant News Reports

Pune Clear construction debris from river: HC The Bombay HC on July 9 2021 took to task Pune municipal authorities over the latter’s failure to stop the dumping of construction debris into Mula Mutha river. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni asked the district collector and the civic body to immediately clear the river of such debris, and said it will personally visit Pune to check if it had been removed. The bench was hearing a PIL filed by one Sarang Yadwadkar through advocate Ronita Bector.

The petitioner had submitted photos to show that debris from the construction of the Pune metro rail project was being dumped into the river in breach of environmental norms. The Pune municipal corporation (PMC) initially denied that debris was being dumped as alleged in the PIL. The HC, however, directed the PMC’s counsel Abhijit Kulkarni to ask the civic officials to visit the site and submit photographs. While the authorities submitted a few photographs showing a portion of the river mainly covered by water hyacinth, the petitioner took fresh photograghs of the site, which showed that construction debris had been dumped into the water. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/clear-construction-debris-from-river-will-come-to-check-it-bombay-hc-to-pune-officials/articleshow/84266734.cms (9 Jul 2021)

NGT panel to fix fine on realtor, civic body The NGT has set up a committee of central and Maharashtra pollution control boards (MPCB) to assess the environmental compensation to be imposed on realty firm Gokhale Landmarks LLP and Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for “negligence and inaction” contributing to environmental damage caused by untreated water flowing from a broken sewage line at a construction site in Kothrud into a nullah and further into the Mutha river. The firm is building a huge commercial complex near City Pride, Kothrud.

On Feb 10, 2021, an NGT-assigned joint inspection committee of the PMC and MPCB experts submitted a report stating that due to damage of trunk line and chamber (first on June 27, 2019, again on April 27, 2020), raw sewage had flown into Mutha river first for 86 days and later for 115 days.

Architect Sarang Yadvadkar, one of the five applicants who moved the NGT in the matter, told TOI, “In terms of quantity, close to 20.24 MLD or 2,024 tankers of untreated raw sewage is estimated to have flown per day into the nullah/river.” Lawyer Manasi Joshi, who represented the MPCB, said on Oct. 29 2021, “The environmental compensation will be worked out on a per day violation basis for the 86 days and 115 days, in accordance with a formula laid down by the principal bench of the NGT in an earlier judgment.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/ngt-panel-to-fix-fine-on-realtor-civic-body/articleshow/87376832.cms  (30 Oct. 2021)

Nasik Godavari unfit even for bathing: NGT  For the second time in six months, the NGT made disturbing observations about the level of Godavari river pollution, saying the water was not fit enough even for bathing, let alone for drinking in a case filed by petitioner Kiran Kamble in 2019. During its hearing on Feb 11, NGT pulled up the Maharashtra government and the civic body of Trimbakeshwar (the origin point of the river) for their failure in preventing discharge of wastewater into the river despite orders issued in the past two years.

The next hearing was to be held on May 18. (ToI)

The NGT has directed the state chief secretary to take necessary action and submit a compliance affidavit on the status by email on April 30. The next hearing is on May 18. The NGT, in its hearing, stated that the generation of sewage in the Godavari is in the range of 4.5-5 MLD, while the Trimbak Municipal Council has arrangements to treat only 1 MLD sewage. The remaining untreated sewage is discharged into the river. The polluted water may also have a serious negative impact on the Nandur Madhmeshwar bird sanctuary, which is a Ramsar site. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nashik/godavari-water-unfit-even-for-bathing-green-tribunal/articleshow/89651410.cms  (18 Feb. 2022)

Trimbakeshwar No compliance of court orders NGT noted that there is no compliance in terms of orders of the Supreme Court or of this Tribunal of taking action against the erring officers for violation of law which is a criminal offence or for preventing the continuing pollution of water or recovering compensation in terms of order of this Tribunal dated January 24, 2020, passed in the presence of the Chief Secretary, Maharashtra.

It said that there is no explanation for such gross dereliction of duty by the authorities in Maharashtra resulting in continuous violation of the binding statutory/constitutional and statutory obligations including the judgment of the Supreme Court and orders of this Tribunal.

The bench was hearing an application filed by Kiran Ramdas Kamble and others seeking to take action for failure of the Trimbakeshwar Municipal Council and other concerned authorities in preventing discharge of Municipal waste into the river which joins Godavari in violation of the judgement of the Supreme Court, in spite of at least 4 orders of NGT in the last two years and also general orders in other cases. https://www.latestly.com/agency-news/india-news-ngt-directs-maharashtra-to-deposit-rs-1-crore-as-interim-compensation-for-restoration-of-water-quality-near-trimbakeshwar-2862755.html  (18 Sept. 2021)

Aurangabad NGT seeks report on Kham river pollution Taking cognisance of a recent news report on pollution in Aurangabad’s Kham river, the NGT has directed Chief Secretary, Maharashtra to convene a meeting of officials concerned and sought action taken report on the issue of discharging untreated sewage to the river. A principal bench of NGT headed by its chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel has taken up the matter regarding the pollution in the river which is affecting the farmers who have to use the polluted water for irrigation. There is indiscriminate encroachment and dumping of solid waste which has reduced the seasonal river to the flow of garbage, as per the media report.

Noting that restoration of the river by preventing discharge of untreated sewage and dumping of other waste and removing encroachments from the catchment area is a necessary step for restoration of the environment, the green court held that pollution of the river is a criminal offence under the provisions of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. Apart from access to clean potable water being a fundamental right of Article 21 of the Constitution, there are also other constitutional provisions requiring local bodies and District Administration to adopt measures for maintaining a clean environment, the NGT said in the order passed on Monday (Feb. 28).

The report shows the failure of the administration in the discharge of their obligations under the Constitution as well as under the orders of the Supreme Court and the Tribunal. Accordingly, the NGT sought the response of the state authorities. “If there is already an action plan prepared by the RRC Maharashtra in respect of the river in question, the same be executed accordingly. If no such plan has been prepared, the same must be now prepared within one month with appropriate timelines and budgetary support, in terms of the judgment of the Supreme Court” the order said. Further hearing on July 13, 2022. https://www.daijiworld.com/news/newsDisplay?newsID=932104  (01 March 2022)

Varanasi NGT forms committee for rejuvenation of Varuna & Assi The NGT on June 18 2021 formed a committee for rejuvenation of Varuna and Assi rivers in Varanasi which join Ganga after taking note of a plea alleging discharge of untreated sewage and unauthorised constructions. A bench headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel constituted an independent Monitoring Committee for the purpose comprising members from CPCB, UPPCB, NMCG and District Magistrate, Varanasi.

“The Committee may meet within two weeks and review the action plan on the subject in the light of the pre-existing action plans, if any, with such modifications as may be necessary. The Committee will be at liberty to take assistance of any other expert/institution, including an agency dealing in rejuvenating works. It may undertake field visit, including sample collection and analysis as required,” the bench said. Based on the report of the Committee, the NMCG may give an action taken report by e-mail in the matter before Aug 4, the next date of hearing.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Saurabh Tiwari against pollution of rivers Varuna and Assi in Varanasi by discharge of untreated sewage and unauthorised constructions. The plea said that Varuna and Assi rivers are tributaries of Ganga and cleaning of river Ganga cannot be imagined without first ensuring prevention of pollution of these two rivers. The petitioner further stated that there is concrete construction inside Ganga water channel at Lalita Ghat. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ngt-forms-committee-for-rejuvenation-of-ganga-tributaries-in-varanasi/article34850523.ece  (18 June 2021)

Bhopal Implement clean Ganga guidelines on Kaliasot river The NGT has pulled up the state government for not making any effort in the past years to control pollution in the Kaliasot river. The tribunal also ordered implementation of clean Ganga guidelines on Kaliasot river which were issued by the Principal Bench in 2017 while hearing a case of Environment Protection Committee vs Union of India. Also instructions have been given to the Chief Secretary of MP to ensure compliance of the orders given earlier to prevent getting pollution in the river. The Kaliasot is a tributary of the Betwa, part of the Ganges-Yamuna basin.

The NGT, while giving its verdict in this case pending for 7 years, observed inactions against the polluters in the past years was a serious threat on heath and lives of common people. The NGT further said that pollution collectively affects and kills people, therefore, not taking action against those who deliberately cause pollution and not taking steps to protect the victims is a mockery of the rule of law. In petition of environmentalist Dr. Subhash Pandey demarcation of Kaliasot river area and development of a green belt up to 33 meters from the center of the river on both sides has been demanded. The NGT directed to take action while fixing the accountability of the officers responsible for the encroachment to remove encroachments from the banks of the river. After this order, the water quality will have to be ensured in Kaliasot, like the Ganges river. https://www.bhaskar.com/local/mp/bhopal/news/apply-the-guideline-made-for-ganga-cleanliness-on-kaliasot-said-not-taking-action-against-those-who-spread-pollution-is-a-crime-like-genocide-128730220.html  (22 July 2021)

Rishikesh Ensure no untreated waste is discharged into Ganga: NGT The NGT has directed the Uttarakhand chief secretary to look into a complaint alleging discharge of untreated waste into the river Ganga in Rishikesh and ensure adequate arrangements for setting up requisite STPs. A bench headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel noted the submission of the petitioner that agents of the municipal corporation were taking bath and washing vehicles using the tap installed outside a toilet complex on the banks of the river Ganga in Rishikesh. The tribunal’s order came on a plea seeking execution of the NGT’s Jan 3, 2022 order directing the Uttarakhand govt to ensure that no untreated waste is discharged into the river Ganga or its tributary.

The directions came while disposing of a plea filed by Vipin Nayyar against construction activities in the flood plain zone of the river Ganga. The plea contended that the Rishikesh Municipal Corporation is constructing toilets on the flood plain zone illegally and discharging untreated waste therefrom in the Ganga. No STP has been constructed to treat the waste, the plea said. The tribunal had directed that the arrangement in question should be interim and not treated as a precedent and shifted to an appropriate location, where construction is legally allowed. “Till alternative arrangement is made, septic tanks be regularly cleaned and maintained to ensure that no untreated sewage is discharged into the river or in the open,” the NGT said. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/ensure-no-untreated-waste-is-discharged-into-ganga-ngt-to-uttarakhand-7935858/  (25 May 2022)

Delhi NDMC cannot shift responsibility to other authority: NGT The tribunal has dismissed a plea filed by North Delhi Municipal Corporation (NrDMC) to summon the violators who have refused to pay Rs 5,000 fine for throwing waste or other items in the Yamuna river saying it cannot shift its own responsibility and obligation to any other body or authority. A bench of Justices Sudhir Agarwal and Brijesh Sethi refused to entertain the plea by the corporation which had also sought directions to the Revenue Authorities (District Magistrates and SDMs) of the Delhi govt to enforce recovery of the environmental compensation of Rs 5,000 on each incident as per NGT’s 2015 order.

“We have seen the order dated May 8, 2015 and it is very clear. We do not find that it requires any modification. Moreover, the application in question is not maintainable under any provision of National Green Tribunal Act, 2010. “We are also of the view that there is enough power vested with the applicant establishment, which is a statutory local body, to take appropriate action, as directed by this Tribunal. It cannot shift its own responsibility and obligation upon any other body or authority,” the bench, also comprising expert member Nagin Nanda, said in its Nov 1 2021 order. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/yamuna-pollution-ndmc-cannot-shift-responsibility-to-other-authority-says-ngt-on-summoning-violators/article37320577.ece (3 Nov. 2021)

HC rejects farmers’ plea against DDA on Yamuna land The High Court has rejected a plea by a farmers’ society seeking to restrain the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) from taking over a large tract of land on the Yamuna riverbank. The court said the society has not been “able to establish any semblance of right on the property”. Justice Subramonium Prasad called the plea filed by Yamuna Bank Kishan Bachao Morcha a “mischievous petition”, noting that “other than making a bald assertion that they are in possession of the area for the last 100 years, there is no document on record to establish the possession”.

The petitioner society said its members are farmers who are living on the banks of the Yamuna for over the last 100 years and cultivating about 15,000 bighas of land. It said the members have proof of ‘lagaan (tax)’ being paid by their forefathers from 1932 to 2012. The farmers grow radish, brinjal, potato, onion, and other vegetables on the land and pay money to the Delhi Peasants Co-Operative Multipurpose Society Limited. The petitioner stated that on Nov 8 2020, DDA officials gathered at their land on the riverbanks for evicting them. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/hc-rejects-farmers-plea-against-dda-on-yamuna-land/article38389722.ece (7 Feb 2022)

SUTLEJ “Breakdown Of System”: NGT on Ghaggar pollution The NGT has come down heavily on Punjab, Himachal & Haryana for failing to stop the discharge of untreated effluents in the Ghaggar river and said that “if the State itself fails in implementing the law, it is nothing but breakdown of the system itself”. A bench headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the 3-states & Chandigarh continue to contribute water pollution which is a criminal offence.

“It is breach of public trust under public trust doctrine. We are left with a feeling that there is no commitment to the rule of law and no concern for the environment and health of the citizens on the part of the concerned authorities in the states of HP, Haryana, Punjab and UT Chandigarh,” said the bench that included Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

The tribunal directed the Chief Secretary, Punjab and the Advisor to the Administrator, Union Territory of Chandigarh in coordination with other concerned officers to take appropriate remedial measures to comply with the mandate of law, including the directions of the Supreme Court. It also directed a joint committee of CPCB, Punjab PCB and pollution control committee of Chandigarh to inspect the drain and furnish a status report within two months by e-mail.

The NGT said that no action is being taken against the erring officers and it gives an impression that there is collapse of Environmental rule of law. “Who is to pay the cost of damage to the environment and public health of large number of unidentified citizens and other living creatures? Is such cost being calculated? How officers responsible for damage by their inaction or otherwise are being dealt with. Should the State be held liable vicariously for such failure and failure to punish the guilty,” the bench asked.

The bench observed that the NGT has been passing repeated orders and as many as six reports have been submitted by a Monitoring Committee headed by a former High Court Judge and a former Chief Secretary, clearly recording failure of the State authorities but the higher authorities are also conveniently ignoring their responsibility. “Advocates for the authorities only maintain silence before this Tribunal. If the State itself fails in implementing the law, it is nothing but breakdown of the system itself.

Is this Tribunal to just remain silent spectator for such gross failure or hold highest authorities accountable by directing their prosecution for their criminal failure and indirectly being party to the crime against the law of the land? How the law of the land is to be meaningfully enforced. We expect answers to these questions from the States,” the bench said. https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/breakdown-of-system-national-green-tribunal-on-pollution-in-ghaggar-river-2459386  (08 June 2021)

Violations galore, NGT raps SPCB NGT has slammed the SPCB for “inaction” against industrial units polluting waterbodies in Haryana. The observation was made in a case pertaining to pollution in Balad river on account of leakage from a common effluent treatment plant. “Merely keeping an eye on units discharging more than 200 kilo-litres per day (KLD) effluents is not enough. Violations by those discharging less than 200 KLD effluents are no less serious,” it observed.

A four-member joint committee, comprising representatives of the MoEF, CPCB, SPCB and district magistrate, has been directed to file a status report after inspecting the erring units. The NGT expressed serious concern over the fact that four textile units of Baddi are still not meeting water pollution norms and fixed dissolved solids (FDS) released by them were beyond the prescribed limit. These units were yet to install advance system for treating FDS, a category IV effluent comprising concentrated dyes. The pipeline carrying these effluents was found choked. The NGT has directed the state board to take remedial action to enforce environment laws. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/violations-galore-ngt-raps-himachal-274473  (27 June 2021)

SPCB faces NGT wrath over toxic discharge into Sirsa In orders pronounced by a Principal Bench on June 23 2021, the NGT stated that such failure of the statutory duty is at the cost of public health and protection of the environment. An analytical study undertaken by the SPCB reveals that the CETP commissioned to treat industrial effluents at Baddi is not meeting the norms and discharging effluents without proper treatment into the river. Its treatment efficiency for residual antibiotics is also not on a par with prescribed norms.

The polluted Sirsa river near Baddi-Barotiwala hub. The Tribune file photo

The NGT took strict note of the fact that board officials pinned their inaction on the fact that the MoFECC had not revised the standards for residual antibiotics. The board has been directed to lay down standards under Section 17 of the Water Act. It has also directed the ministry to expedite the process of finalising these standards. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/himachal/pollution-board-faces-ngt-wrath-over-toxic-discharge-into-sirsa-river-in-baddi-274209  (26 June 2021)

Meghalaya Clean, rejuvenate Wahumkhrah & Umshyrpi rivers: HC The division bench of the High Court of Meghalaya has observed that immediate steps should be taken to clean and rejuvenate the Umshyrpi and Wahumkhrah rivers. The Court made the observation on Feb 16 2022 while hearing a suo motu PIL in response to the efficient management of cleanliness & hygienic conditions in Shillong City. The state government, the Shillong Municipal Board and the Defence respondents were represented by their respective counsels.

The Court asked the state government to be more proactive and instructed the Defence authorities to come out with a strategy to undertake cleanliness and awareness campaigns/ drives all over the city since several parts, including the areas around Bara Bazar to Mawlai and some of the other commercial areas in the down market localities, need a lot more than what has been done. The Court asked the amicus curiae appointed in the matter to coordinate with the respondents and other appropriate authorities and asked both the state and the amicus curiae to file individual reports in the next hearing, indicating how the matter has been carried forward. https://theshillongtimes.com/2022/02/17/clean-rejuvenate-wahumkhrah-umshyrpi-rivers-high-court/  (17 Feb. 2022)

Hyderabad NGT raps govt for failing to protect Musi NGT rapped Telangana govt for failing to protect the Musi river and directed it to clear the encroachments on “mission mode”. The green court’s Principal Bench said the extent of encroachments on the river is “huge” and criticised the government for its “sorry state of affairs”. It also rapped the government for “not discharging its basic obligation” in following a 47-year-old law The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and allowing untreated waste to be disposed into water bodies.

Express Photo

– As per the directions, the rejuvenation works of the Musi will be monitored by the Telangana Chief Secretary once a month and by the MoJS once every quarter. The Ministry is responsible for issuing the NRRM guidelines which will prescribe steps for controlling the pollution and rejuvenating all polluted river stretches in the country. It will also check the setting up of the national/ state/district-level Environment Data Grid as an effective monitoring strategy.

– The NGT directed all States to adhere to the timelines they have set for the rejuvenation of polluted river stretches, failing which they will have to pay a compensation to the MoJS as per the formula fixed by the green court in 2019. Chief Secretaries are accountable in case the govts fail to pay the compensation.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/telangana/2021/feb/25/telangana-govt-gets-an-earful-from-ngt-for-not-looking-after-musi-2268759.html  (25 Feb. 2021)

Kolkata NGT orders inquiry into the alleged filling up of river The eastern bench of the NGT on Apr 7 2022 directed that a high-power committee be formed to probe the allegation that the Saraswati river has been filled up in several parts of Howrah.  Activist Subhas Datta in his submission, alleged that the river has been filled with fly ash and soil to stop its flow. Illegal bridges are being constructed over the river and untreated wastewater & garbage are polluting the river. The river has been encroached at several points in the name of road widening.

The Saraswati is a centuries-old river that is believed to have mythological roots. The Plurals

The NGT bench comprising Justice B. Amit Sthalekar and expert member Saibal Dasgupta directed that a committee be constituted with senior scientists from both the central and state pollution control boards, a senior official from state irrigation department and a retired official from state environment department to look into the matter and submit a report within a month. The NGT bench asked the state pollution control board to act as the nodal agency. Petitioner Datta will accompany the committee during its field visit. https://www.telegraphindia.com/my-kolkata/news/national-green-tribunal-orders-inquiry-into-the-alleged-filling-up-of-saraswati-river/cid/1859743 (8 Apr 2022), https://www.telegraphindia.com/my-kolkata/news/national-green-tribunal-panel-to-probe-saraswati-river-encroachment/cid/1860422  (13 April 2022)

Chennai Some progress in Cooum, none in Adyar: NGT The Southern Bench, comprising Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member Saibal Dasgupta, observed that no short-term measures have been mentioned to prevent pollution in the Buckingham Canal until the implementation of the permanent action plan which is to be completed only next year. On the issue of discharge of sewage and waste into the Buckingham Canal after the monsoon when it is naturally cleaned up briefly, the tribunal asked the city corporation, SPCB, Public Works Department, metro water and the Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT) to look into the issue and submit an independent report within three months.

The tribunal had taken suo motu cognisance of a news report published in Oct 2013 and issued an order on July 7 2021. “The Chief Secretary, State of Tamil Nadu, is directed to file a further periodical report to this Tribunal showing the progress of the work and also considering the observation made by this Tribunal regarding short-term measures to be taken for abating the pollution that is being caused to the above said three water bodies till the proposed action plan prepared by them is finally implemented,” the order stated, referring to the Cooum, Adyar, and the Buckingham Canal.

The polluted Cooum river near Madhuravoyal in Chennai. (File photo | Shiba prasad sahu/TNIE)

The Bench also directed the district administration to constitute a ‘task force’ in order to initiate action against those responsible for polluting the city’s water bodies. “The Chief Secretary is also directed to consider the question of constituting a “Task Force” under the leadership of the District Collector and the District Police Authorities to supervise these water bodies routinely and take action against those persons who are causing pollution to the same by adopting illegal methods,” the order stated.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2021/jul/12/some-progress-in-cooum-none-in-adyar-says-ngt-2328793.html  (12 July 2021)

Madurai Plea in Madurai Bench to prevent river exploitation The Vaigai Nathi Makkal Iyakkam has filed a PIL before the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court seeking a direction to the State to take appropriate steps to prevent the exploitation of the river Vaigai. A Division Bench of Justices T. Raja and D. Bharatha Chakravarthy directed the State to file a status report on the petition.

The petitioner complained that construction debris and waste generated while laying roads as part of the Smart City Project were being dumped into the river Vaigai. He pointed out that the debris of the old Kuruvikaran Salai bridge was dumped into the river. The construction project under the Smart City Project was taken up for the beautification of the banks of the river Vaigai. However, the construction debris was dumped along the stretch, he said.

Further, he sought a direction to the authorities to take steps to operate the STP set up along the Panthalkudi channel and ensure the sewage water is recycled. Also, the mixing of sewage water into the river should be prevented. He said the Vaigai was the main source of water for Madurai and other nearby districts. However, the quality of water in the river was deteriorating and getting polluted.

The construction of check dams in the river by excavating sand will affect the groundwater level, he said and also complained about the extraction of sand from the river. Many trees uprooted along the stretch were not replanted. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/madurai/article65389005.ece  (06 May 2022)

Coimbatore Formulate plan to check pollution: NGT Coonoor Municipality cannot shirk its responsibility of preventing pollution in the water bodies in Coonoor, in the Nilgiris, as the pollution may impact areas downstream of a river, the Southern bench of the NGT said. It ordered that an action plan be drawn up to end the problem.

The NGT had taken up the case suo moto in 2020 following a media report that elephants in the area did not have access to proper drinking water as the water bodies in the region were polluted. The Tribunal had formed a joint committee and directed the Coonoor Municipality to come up with a timeline to address the issue of water pollution. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/formulate-action-plan-to-check-water-pollution-in-coonoor-ngt/article36703838.ece  (28 Sept. 2021)

Channapatna HC furious at sewage freely flowing into waterbodies Again and again, over time, such orders are issued. And never implemented. Even judicial orders.  Meanwhile, using these orders a slew of STPs are commissioned, public money looted, and those damn systems never work. These are massive systems and demand land. And of late, lakes have become the locus to dump them. (ESG Note) https://www.deccanherald.com/city/top-bengaluru-stories/hc-furious-at-sewage-freely-flowing-into-channapatna-waterbodies-1088681.html  (07 March 2022)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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Urban Rivers 2022-Top 10 Govt Actions: pre-occupation with STPs without accountable governance

One thought on “Top Ten Judicial Actions on Urban Rivers 2022: Executors Deliberately Delaying, Diluting, Defying orders

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