WWD 2023: Top Ten Judicial Interventions to Improve Wetlands Governance

(Feature Image: Construction activities in Sukhatal lake area in Nainital, Uttarakhand. Source: Dainik Jagran, Nov. 2022)

In this third part of wetlands overview, SANDRP tracks top ten judicial interventions regarding protection of wetlands in India in 2022. The part one has highlighted general situation of wetlands and part two has covered some governmental actions for wetlands conservation.

1. Tamil Nadu HC directs govt. to geo-reference all 24,684 wetlands mapped in 2010 The Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu Government to geo-reference and superimpose on satellite imagery the 24,684 wetlands mapped in the State under the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment (NWIA) in 2010 so that their exact location could be identified and present status determined before being notified under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.

Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice N. Mala issued the direction after amicus curiae P.S. Raman submitted a compact disc containing the georeferenced maps of the wetlands in Tiruvallur district, taken up on a pilot basis. The court had on July 1 directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to share with the senior counsel a web link containing the shape and vector files of the wetlands so that he could take a Google impression and superimpose.

In order to ascertain the names of the villages and the taluks where the 24,684 wetlands in the State were located, it was essential to geo-reference them, the Bench said and directed the govt to complete the work within two months. Thereafter, the government officials could take another two months to conduct personal inspections and ascertain the current status of the wetlands before safeguarding them and notifying them under the 2017 Rules, it ordered.

Since the amicus curiae had already completed geo-referencing the maps related to Tiruvallur district, the government officials could straightaway begin the second stage of physical verification in that district alone, the judges said.

Since the National Wetlands Atlas: Tamil Nadu, 2010, had identified 18,294 small wetlands, too, apart from the 24,684 regular wetlands, the amicus curiae told the court that the government could locate those wetlands, too, in the process and ascertain their current status. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/hc-directs-tn-govt-to-geo-reference-all-24684-wetlands-mapped-in-2010/article65825757.ece  (29 Aug. 2022)

Why only one wetland complex declared as protected site under Ramsar Convention: HC The Madras High Court on Feb 17 2022 wanted to know why only one wetland complex, the Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, in Tamil Nadu had been declared as a protected site under the 1971 Ramsar Convention to which India is a signatory, though it is estimated that wetlands were spread over 9,02,534 ha working out to 6.92% of the geographic area of TN. Bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari & Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy directed Additional Advocate General J. Ravindran to apprise the court within two weeks about the status of a recent proposal forwarded by the State govt to the MoEF for declaring 13 more significant wetlands in the State as Ramsar sites.

The judges also wanted to know by when all wetlands in the State would be demarcated and notified under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules of 2017 so that they could be protected and preserved under the statutory provisions. The questions were raised during the hearing of a suo motu writ petition taken up by the court in 2017 for conserving and protecting the wetlands. Senior counsel P.S. Raman, who had been appointed as an amicus curiae in the case, said the suo motu writ petition was taken up by the court following Supreme Court orders. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/why-only-one-wetland-complex-in-tn-declared-as-protected-site-under-ramsar-convention-wonders-hc/article65059672.ece  (17 Feb. 2022) https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/madras-high-court-wetlands-conservation-ramsar-convention-192229  (18 Feb. 2022)

Tamil Nadu Wetland Authority has informed the Madras High Court that it needed to consult the concerned govt depts before finalising the draft for notifying 100 wetlands in TN. Of the 100 wetlands identified, draft notification proposals for 29 have been submitted to the State. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2022/mar/04/notification-for-wetlands-under-process-tnwa-tells-madras-hc-2426110.html  (4 March 2022)

Encroachment of water bodies leading to floods, drought in Tamil Nadu: Madras HC https://www.barandbench.com/news/law-policy/encroachment-water-bodies-results-nature-striking-tsunami-earthquake-madras-high-court  (05 Sept. 2022)

2. Kerala SC order paves way for demolition of plush Rs 200 cr lakeside resort After a long drawn legal battle, following a directive from the Supreme Court, the demolition process of a plush Rs 200 crore Kapico resort at Nediyanthuruthu in Alappuzha on the Vembanad lake began on Sep 15 2022. The demolition of the resort buildings, sprawled on the lakeside, will be completed in six months.

The demolition of buildings at the Kapico resort, sprawled on the lakeside in Vembanad, will be completed in six months.  TNM

Alappuzha Collector VR Krishna Theja said “they (apparently the resort owners) have submitted a demolition plan. The demolition will be monitored by the state Pollution Control Board. We are expecting that the land will be restored to normal in six months. It will be done not using public money, but that of the resort owners,” the Collector said.

The resorts, situated on an island in the backwaters of the Vembanad lake comprising 54 posh villas, were built in 2007-2012. A series of cases for violating the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules were filed even as the construction was going on. Initially, the Kerala High Court ruled against the resort. The defendants then approached the apex court, which also ruled against the resort.

“As per the report of the Tahsildar in 2011, 2.9397 ha had been encroached to build the resort. Now, the govt has retrieved the 2.9397 ha. Some buildings are still on govt land that will also be demolished soon. “Whatever construction is on government land will be demolished and whatever on the land owned by the resort owners will be retained,” the Collector added. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/sc-order-paves-way-demolition-plush-rs-200-cr-lakeside-resort-kerala-167913  (15 Sept. 2022)

3. Uttarakhand Nainital HC orders stop on all construction activities on Sukahatal lake bed The High Court of Nainital has asked that all encroachments be removed from Sukhatal- a seasonal lake that is the main source of recharge for Naini lake, the water body of one of north India’s most popular hill stations, Nainital.

Kartikey Hari Gupta, amicus curiae, told the court that hydrological studies had proved that the Sukhatal was a major source of water supply to Naini lake. Yet a report by IIT Roorkee had come up with a plan for beautification of the area. While the report itself was contradictory and could not be relied on, there was also no need for the beautification of an area that was already abundantly naturally beautiful. The court observed that had the encroachments on Sukhatal belonged to the poor, they would have been removed immediately. It ordered an immediate stoppage of all construction on Sukahatal while fixing Dec 20 for next hearing.

The Sukhatal Lake in Nainital. (Express photo by Avaneesh Mishra)

On March 2, 2022 the court had directed the Additional Chief Standing Counsel to send a copy of the petition to all concerned Secretaries and obtain their replies as early as possible. It had also said that as the matter was very urgent it would be listed on each date of listing of PILs as a fresh admission. In Nov 2022, concerned citizens had again raised their voice against the fact that despite the urgency of the matter not a single hearing had taken place. The matter was finally taken up on Nov 22 2022 with a two judge bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi & Justice R.C Khulbe issuing notices to the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority and the State Wetlands Management Authority.

In the 21st century, the Naini lake has often seen a drastic decline in water—something that was never seen in its life cycle. Between 2002 and 2016 the lake reached zero level (the minimum level of water to be maintained) 10 times. A major reason for this is the encroachment of Sukhatal and the concretisation of its bed. It is the government’s version of beautification, which experts say comes at the expense of the health of the lake. The administration’s plans to make an artificial water body on the Sukhatal lakebed to boost tourism comes without any understanding of how water moves underground to recharge the Naini lake. If Sukhatal were to be developed as the administration envisages it, the hydrological balance will be upturned and the drying up of Naini lake hastened. Also, given the limited resources of Nainital, there is no reason to make efforts to increase tourist flow. A better approach would be to develop other tourist spots in the state. https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2022/11/23/nainital-hc-orders-stop-on-all-construction-activities-on-sukahatal-lake-bed.html  (23 Nov. 2022) Nainital gets some HC relief but fingers crossed. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/choking-sukhatal-lake-nainital-gets-some-high-court-relief-but-fingers-crossed-8297039/  (30 Nov. 2022)

IIT Roorkee’s report clearly states that there should be no permanent construction in Sukhatal lakebed. Impermeable building materials should not be used on the surface of the lake. Naini Lake receives 40-50 percent of its water supply from Sukhatal. If the chain of seepage from Sukhtal is interrupted by concrete construction, it will affect the existence of Naini Lake. https://www.jagran.com/uttarakhand/nainital-roorkee-iit-report-raised-questions-on-concrete-construction-in-sukhatal-of-nainital-23210505.html  (17 Nov. 2022)

4. Bihar NGT bans illegal construction around 3 ponds in Darbhanga Taking note of petition filed by Talab Bachao Abhiyan (TBA), an outfit actively engaged in conservation and protection of ponds, the NGT bench, headed by justice B Amit Sthalekar and judicial member Dr Afroz Ahmad, issued an order to ban any illegal constructions around three ponds – Harahi, Dighi and Ganga Sagar in Mithila, situated in Darbhanga city besides issuing directions to constitute a committee to look into the issues in wake of concerns raised by the TBA that untreated sewage and waste water were being discharged through drainage by Darbhanga junction as well as municipal corporation directly into the Dighi pond, due to which flora and fauna of the pond was severely affected. The next hearing is on Jan 10, 2023.

Earlier, the curator of Chandradhari Museum, Darbhanga had apprised the railways authorities in Feb 2022 to stop discharge of untreated wastewater into Dighi pond. People visiting museum had earlier lodged a complaint regarding a strong stench emanating from the pond. “The three ponds that exist in a linear position were interconnected to each other and considered an engineering marvel of its time and continue to served its purpose till date. However, owing to complete neglect and rather continuous damage which is being caused by way of encroachment and illegal dumping of garbage and sewage into these ponds, the conditions had worsened”, said the petitioner, Narayan Jee Choudhary, TBA convenor.

According to the petitioner, the TBA had prayed before NGT to pass an order imposing an ad interim fine of ₹30 crore on railway ministry and Samastipur DRM for discharging untreated sewage and waste water from Darbhanga station into Dighi pond & immediately stop the same. However, the presiding judge maintained that in the absence of an alternate plan, the railways & municipal authorities be allowed to submit counter affidavits within fixed time to present remedial measures. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/patna-news/blanket-ban-on-illegal-construction-around-3-ponds-in-bihar-s-darbhanga-ngt-101670558402609.html (9 Dec 2022)

5. Tripura HC directs govt to form panel to supervise wetlands crucial for migratory birds In a significant judgment, the High Court of Tripura directed the state govt to constitute a panel of higher officials who will be responsible for the protection and preservation of the wetlands across the state where migratory birds roost during the winter season. Hearing PIL in connection with the unnatural deaths of over 100 migratory birds reported at Udaipur under Tripura’s Gomati district, a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty & Justice SG Chattopadhyay suggested the state govt to encourage organic farming in the cropland located in the vicinity of such wetlands so that possibilities of contamination could be avoided.

“There is a possibility that the migratory birds may have consumed pesticide used by the farmers in the said area but for that also they have no confirmed evidence thereof and soil samples appear to have been sent for testing to establish the said fact,” the Bench said.

“In the present circumstances, we are of the considered view that as suggested by the learned amicus curiae the State should constitute a committee of responsible officers who shall supervise all such wetlands in the State of Tripura and in particular, the farming that is being done in the nearby areas and to try and encourage the local farmers to convert to organic farming as being promoted by the Govt of India instead of using pesticides and/or chemicals,” it added. The court passed the order after going through a report submitted by the Forest department of Tripura. https://theprint.in/india/tripura-high-court-directs-state-govt-to-form-panel-to-supervise-wetlands-crucial-for-migratory-birds/850948/  (27 Feb. 2022)

6. Maharashtra NGT upholds CRZ 1 status of Panje In a big victory for environmentalists fighting to save Panje wetland in Uran, the NGT on Feb 23, 2022 upheld that the area falls under CRZ-1 and dismissed the contentions by Cidco and NMSEZ against the status of the area. The Western Zonal Bench of NGT headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel dismissed review petitions filed by Cidco and NMSEZ against the Tribunal’s ruling of April 15, 2021, which directed the opening of the inter-tidal water inlets to the wetland that were blocked in 2020. The other members of the Tribunal are Justice Brijesh Sethi and expert members Dr Nagin Nanda, Dr A Senthil Vel, Dr Vijay Kulkarni & Dr Afroz Ahmad. The Tribunal had in fact asked Cidco & the Raigad district collector to comply with the Environment Director’s order of Nov 11, 2020, to clear the choke points at Panje. Cidco and NMSEZ had contended that the 289-ha Panje area was agricultural land and that it was a developable land parcel. NGT also said no one should interfere with the free flow of tidal water, according to advocate Meenaz Kakalia who represented activist Nandkumar Pawar of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan (SEAP).

Cidco and NMSEZ had contended that the 289-hectare Panje area was agricultural land and that it was a developable land parcel. ToI

The latest National Wetland Decadal Change Atlas prepared by the Space Application Centre & ratified by the MOEF clearly demarcates Panje as wetland with inter-tidal water, mangroves & mudflats, NatConnect director B N Kumar pointed out. Pawar said he will file a caveat at the Supreme Court. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-ngt-upholds-crz-1-status-of-panje-wetland-dismisses-cidco-nmsez-objections/articleshow/89780299.cms (23 Feb 2022)

7. Gujarat NGT panel disallows discharge of treated sewage to protected wetland A committee constituted by the NGT after The Indian Express reported that a proposed STP of the Kalol municipality in Gandhinagar district had been allowed to discharge treated sewage to the Ramsar-protected Thol lake in Mehsana Dist has disallowed the discharge into the lake and its eco-sensitive zone. The joint committee was formed in March following an order by the NGT principal bench, which on July 8 will likely take up the report submitted on June 1 by the five-member panel, headed by State Wetland Authority member secretary S J Pandit.

While taking suo motu cognisance of the March 19 news report, the NGT had directed the panel to file a factual and action-taken report & sought to know if “treated sewage can be utilised for secondary purposes, instead of being discharged into the wetland”. The Indian Express reported that the Gujarat Urban Development Company Ltd, a govt undertaking, had floated tenders for setting up a STP with a capacity to treat 33.1 million litres per day in the Kalol municipality and parts of the Ahmedabad Urban Development Authority’s jurisdiction.

It has also been recommended that “the options of providing dedicated irrigation canals bypassing the Thol lake and without affecting the whole bird sanctuary, eco-sensitive zone of the Thol lake and reuse of treated sewage in the nearby industries should be explored”. Furthermore, “a guard pond-cum-distribution pond with an online continuous effluent monitoring system and regular manual monitoring should be provided for treated sewage from the proposed STP, and treated sewage may be utilised based on requirements for irrigation and industrial purposes”.

Some of the options identified by the joint committee and the subcommittee include utilisation of the treated wastewater in the garden area of the municipality, for use by the Gujarat Industrial Development Corp-Kalol, which houses 180 industries; utilisation by other industries such as Arvind Ltd at Santej and Bharat Vijay Mill at Kalol; and utilisation by the Kalol unit of the Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative Limited, if feasible.

On reutilising the treated wastewater, the NGT committee has also said that the municipality should advertise seeking expressions of interest for the utilisation of treated wastewater from the proposed plant. The panel also suggested that the state pollution control board take into account its recommendations while considering the Kalol sewage treatment plant’s application for consent. Following the distribution of the treated wastewater to industrial units and for other purposes, the remaining treated wastewater can be drained into a canal of Sujalam Sufalam Circle-1 for irrigation purposes, the panel said, adding that “technical modification in the existing pipeline” may be undertaken to ensure that treated wastewater does not get mixed with drinking water. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/express-impact-ngt-panel-discharge-treated-sewage-protected-wetland-gujarat-8008330/  (04 July 2022) https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/stp-allowed-to-discharge-waste-into-thol-lake-ngt-seeks-report-7845294/  (30 March 2022)

The forest department gave the green light to the project on the condition that discharge of treated wastewater from the STP shall not disturb routine birdlife in Thol and that periodic water quality testing reports shall be submitted to the forest department. TIE

“Releasing waste water into a wetland without treatment or even with insufficient treatment can prove hazardous for the wetland. If the wastewater is in the form of untreated domestic sewage, it may lead to accelerated eutrophication (nutrient enrichment) owing to the excessive concentration of nutrients like phosphates and nitrates. It may further lead to algal blooming which may further cause aesthetic deterioration, dissolved oxygen depletion and fish kill,” says Ketan Tatu, an Ahmedabad-based wetland researcher. He adds that Thol was listed as a Ramsar site less than a year ago. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/thol-lake-ramsar-site-stp-7833968/  (24 March 2022) A joint-committee constituted by the NGT held its first meeting on April 28. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/ngt-panel-meets-begins-work-on-report-on-new-stp-7895537/  (01 May 2022)

8. Telangana Change in NH alignment cutting across waterbody recommended A special committee of the NGT has recommended re-alignment of a 4-lane road that was originally planned to cut right across a water body belonging to the state Irrigation Department. The Committee on Feb 24 2022 submitted to the NGT its report. Chuttukunta tank, a traditional reservoir, in Raghava Puram Village in Suryapet dist of Telangana, is the subject in front of the NGT wherein it was alleged that the NHAI had planned a road that simply cut across it.

On Feb 15, the NHAI authorities, during a discussion, said, “The alignment of the 4-lane road was adopted by not considering this particular water body in the Detailed Project Report. Simple cross drainage was taken into consideration for the alignment.” The proposed alignment will bifurcate the tank bed into two parts for a stretch of 340 m directly affecting the water spread area to the extent of 3.36 acres as against the total water spread area of 33.63 acres, which, the Telangana Irrigation Dept officials claimed, “is a clear indication of reduction of tank capacity.” The Irrigation Dept refused to provide NOC as it said that the road alignment was new. The NOC should have been sought earlier. No construction activity can be allowed in the tank bed. https://daijiworld.com/news/newsDisplay?newsID=930734 (25 Feb 2022)

9. Andhra Pradesh NGT directs govt to cancel NCCL project in Sompeta wetland The Chennai bench of the NGT has directed the Andhra govt to cancel or revoke the permission granted to Nagarjuna Construction Company Ltd (NCCL) to take up activities related to a proposed industrial zone on the wetlands of Sompeta in Srikakulam till further orders. Justice K Ramakrishnana has said Sompeta wetland is declared as wetland under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. Even if any portion of the wetland was not included as wetlands, it should be treated as a water body, the NGT said and restrained NCCL from doing any work in the area. The judgement came in the petition filed by Paryavarana Parirakshana Sangham and former Union Energy Secretary EAS Sarma.

The Special Chief Secretary to Govt (Env, Forests, and Climate Change) has been asked to submit a periodical report regarding the progress of the exercise done by them in this regard, once in 3 months, till it is completed. The Special Chief Secretary to the State govt  (Revenue Dept) was directed to submit a report regarding the action taken to revoke permission granted to NCCL & others within 3 months. The NGT also directed the dept concerned to identify & prepare a brief document regarding the other wetlands in Srikakulam dist & other parts of AP, mapped in the National Wetland Atlas. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/andhra-pradesh/2022/apr/16/ngt-directs-ap-government-to-cancel-nccl-project-in-sompeta-wetland-2442634.html  (16 April 2022)

10. Meghalaya HC bats for preservation of Umiam Lake, terms it ‘vital’ The High Court has observed that the preservation of Umiam Lake is ‘vital’ as is the preservation of the delicate ecology surrounding the waters, including smaller seasonal waterbodies that form, and the flora and fauna. The Court’s observation came during hearing of the PIL in relation to the cleanliness of Umiam Lake on Feb 15 2022.

Umiam Lake .(ST file photo)

The division bench of the High Court, in its order, stated that the state govt has to chalk out a road map for the preservation of the larger waterbody and the smaller seasonal ones around the lake; and demarcate zones where construction can be permitted at a distance of 150 to 200 m from the edge of the water at its highest level and subject to conditions pertaining to sewage not seeping into the Umiam waters. The bench observed that at any rate, greater executive action is necessary than what is perceived to be in place at the moment.

“As much as the tourist footfall increases in the state, there is a need for sustaining the tourism industry without disturbing or distressing the environment or the ecology. Again, this needs extensive executive planning,” it said. “Let the matter appear a week hence so that it gets the attention that it deserves from the State Govt,” the order stated. https://theshillongtimes.com/2022/02/16/hc-bats-for-preservation-of-umiam-lake-terms-it-vital/  (16 Feb. 2022)

On Feb 16, 2022 opposition questioned the govt: “The beautiful Umiam Lake has turned into a dumping ground. It seems an oxymoron almost that the state, known for its rich ecology, is ignorant towards pollution of the water bodies. Can the CM answer where did Rs 19.33 crore meant for maintaining the lake go?” https://theshillongtimes.com/2022/02/17/where-is-money-earmarked-for-umiam-lake-aitc-asks-govt/  (17 Feb. 2022)

Other Reports on Judicial Interventions for Wetlands Protection in 2022

Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary What ‘Control’ means in ‘Pollution Control Board’ We are witnessing in Indian environmental governance, where good laws designed to protect the environment and human health are being broken with impunity. Worse still, the watchdog agencies tasked to implement these laws are often found creating an enabling environment for the violators. In a recent judgement of the NGT, in the matter of Meenava Thanthai K.R Selvaraj Kumar, Meenavar Nala Sangam v. Union of India and Others, a bench headed by Justice K. Ramakrishnan made several observations that underscored the crisis of environmental governance in India.

“Applying the doctrine of proportionality, instead of directing closure of the unit, we feel that directing them to pay an Environmental Compensation of Rs 10 Cr- an interim compensation of both these amounts will have to be paid by them.” https://science.thewire.in/environment/sun-pharma-vedanthangal-misgovernance/ (31 Oct 2022)

Stop expansion at Vedanthangal sanctuary NGT on Monday (May 23) directed Sun Pharma not to proceed with expansion work inside Vedanthangal bird sanctuary till the next hearing of the case on July 12. The company and all other govt agencies involved are directed to submit their replies before July 12. The Centre had earlier granted clearance to the company for expanding its active pharmaceutical ingredients manufacturing unit at Rs 202.36 crore.

K R Selvaraj Kumar from a local fishermen’s welfare association filed an appeal with the NGT Southern Zone saying the existing green law didn’t allow environment clearance (EC) for a ‘red’ category industry within 5km of a bird sanctuary. The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) had confirmed that toxic material would be used at the proposed expansion site, but granted the EC after advising Sun Pharma to store such raw material with utmost precaution. “EC cannot be granted on undertaking given by the project proponent particularly when it is storage of toxic and explosive material in a bird sanctuary area,” the NGT had earlier observed. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/stop-expansion-at-vedanthangal-sanctuary-ngt-tells-sun-pharma/articleshow/91752645.cms  (24 May 2022) https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2022/may/24/ngt-bench-ordersstatus-quo-on-sun-pharma-expansion-2457154.html  (24 May 2022)

Ennore Creeks NGT orders govt to notify Ennore under wetland mission In its final order in a case filed by Ennore fishers Ravimaran (late) and RL Srinivasan, and fisher activist K Saravanan seeking remediation of ash-choked wetlands, the NGT bench comprising judicial member Justice K Ramakrishnan and expert member K Satyagopal directed the Dept of Environment to ensure that a DPR is readied in 9 months as per the comprehensive Terms of Reference (ToR) issued by the Joint Experts Committee in March 2022. “If remediation is done as per the ToRs issued by the expert panel, we are certain that the river will return to life. This will help lift local fishers from poverty, and protect north Chennai from flooding,” said K Saravanan of Save Ennore Creek campaign.

The order directed the Additional Chief Secretary, Environment, Forests and Climate Change to study the “unutilized” Ennore wetlands on the basis of the 1996 Coastal Zone Management Plan and protect that area against further development, declare it as Ennore wetlands under the government’s wetland mission and develop a plan for restoration of the fragile Ennore creek ecosystem and Ennore wetland complex. The tribunal has also directed the Chief Secretary to constitute a committee headed by district collector with officials from Greater Chennai Corporation, SPCB and Tangedco as members to hold quarterly meetings to hear and address public grievances regarding the State power utility’s functioning in the area. It has tasked the TNPCB to prosecute and penalise Tangedco for its unlicensed operation. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/2022/jul/08/ngt-orderstamil-nadu-government-to-notify-chennais-ennore-underwetland-mission-2474086.html  (08 July 2022)

TNWA member secretary Deepak Srivastava on Oct 13 2022 said the Ennore Creek, a natural carrier of floodwater and an important wetland that supports livelihood of fishermen, may soon be declared as a protected wetland under TN Wetland Mission. Only recently, the NGT has directed the govt to notify the full extent of the unencroached portion of Ennore wetlands under the TN Wetland Mission to protect it from further abuse. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2022/oct/14/ennore-creek-in-thiruvallur-district-to-be-protected-under-tamil-nadu-wetland-mission-2507890.html (14 Oct 2022)

TANGEDCO fined Rs5 cr for constructing roads within Ennore wetlands In a 2016 case filed by Ennore fisher R.L Srinivasan challenging the construction of roads within the Ennore wetlands, the NGT imposed a penalty of Rs. 5 crores on state electricity utility, TANGEDCO. The amount should be used for developing and implementing an integrated restoration plan for the Ennore Creek, Buckingham Canal and Kosasthalaiyar River.

Image Source: Story of Ennore

Regarding TANGEDCOs illegal and wetland-degrading activities, a committee involving MOEFCC, State Coastal Zone Management Authority, NEERI and IIT-Madras recommended that any further such construction must be subject to a detailed EIA. https://storyofennore.wordpress.com/2022/07/21/tangedco-fined-rs-5-crores-for-constructing-roads-within-the-ennore-wetlands-for-the-construction-of-a-coal-conveyor-belt/  (21 July 2022)

Andhra Pradesh NGT orders ONGC to pay ₹22cr to APPCB The Chennai Bench of the NGT comprising judicial member Justice K. Ramakrishnan and expert member Saibal Dasgupta directed the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) to pay compensation of ₹22.77 crore to the SPCB within six months for causing large-scale air, sound, soil and water pollution in the erstwhile East and West Godavari districts.

The NGT has also ordered the SPCB to take further action that may be required against ONGC for non-compliance with the environmental laws in the process of operating its units and gave it the liberty to impose further compensation. Besides, the tribunal directed the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) to operate its units in strict compliance with the recommendations made by a joint committee set up by it, after obtaining the relevant statutory clearances.

The allegation was that the ONGC and GAIL have not provided a mechanism needed to check the pollution likely to be caused by their activities, such as discharging polluted water into the sea, water bodies and open land, causing gas leakages by not providing a leakage detection system, and for conducting blasting in Kesavadasupalem, Kesanapally, Antarvedi, Nagaram, Nagi Cheruvu, Uppudi and around 100 villages of the Godavari districts. In its judgment, the NGT ordered that ONGC and GAIL should carry out safety measures stipulated by the MoEF&CC to prevent incidents of leakage in the future, and adhere to norms related to the utilisation of CSR funds. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/national-green-tribunal-orders-ongc-to-pay-22-cr-to-appcb/article65720688.ece  (03 Aug. 2022)

The Andhra Pradesh SPCB has constituted a 12-member expert committee to prepare an action plan for utilising the ₹22.76 crore ‘Environmental Compensation’ paid by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) as directed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for non-compliance with environmental guidelines in its operational areas in the Konaseema region in Andhra Pradesh. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/andhra-pradesh-pollution-control-board-constitutes-expert-committee-to-prepare-action-plan-for-utilising-environmental-compensation-paid-by-ongc/article66454270.ece  (31 Jan. 2023)

W Bengal Panel to continue monitoring EKW: NGT The special bench of NGT has ordered the continuation of the East Kolkata Wetland Monitoring Committee headed by the state chief secretary, which will meet at least once a month and upload its minutes on the website of the SPCB. Any stakeholder/citizen can give suggestions for consideration by the committee, which was formed in response to a case filed by green activist Subhas Datta. The special bench also said that the water quality monitoring of wetlands and water bodies should be a regular feature of the execution plan.

The special bench has also asked for proper implementation of Integrated Management Action Plan for East Kolkata Wetlands 2021-2026. In the revised Management Action Plan, the budget has been revised to Rs 110.7 crore from Rs 119.8 crores. The NGT expressed concern over huge encroachments of EKW. There are more than 25,000 encroachments. On behalf of the state, it is submitted that action has been initiated against the encroachers. One of the reasons for the delay in taking action is stated to be on account of the long-pending cases filed under the East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act, 2006.

This matter is of serious concern and requires monitoring but is not within the domain of the tribunal. We, therefore, request the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court to be gracious enough to look into the matter so that the matters relating to serious environmental infractions are heard and disposed of expeditiously, the bench observed. We direct the state, more particularly the environment department, to file an affidavit to place on record the present status of all actions taken and also an action plan that is dealing with the matter. We also direct the BMC to place on record the latest status. Let the Nabadiganta Industrial Township Authority (NDITA) and the New Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA) also file reports on the current status, the bench added. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/ngt-panel-to-continue-monitoring-wetlands/articleshow/91297988.cms  (04 May 2022)

Maharashtra HC holds Powai lake cycling project work illegal  The Bombay high court on May 6, 2022 stopped all work holding it was illegal under the current laws & directed BMC to remove any construction material and restore the lake areas to its original status. The ruling came on two PIL filed first by an IIT Bombay PhD student Omkar Supekar & then by environmental NGO Vanashakti & its founder Stalin D alleging the work violated Wetland rules.

Senior counsel Gayatri Singh & advocate Zaman Ali appearing for Vanashakti argued that there is a crocodile park so permission is required from National Wildlife board & that the heritage clearance clearly stated that no construction or reclamation should be allowed.

Singh and Rajmani said Powai lake was a wetland area under the Wetlands Atlas 2011 and hence protected under the orders of the HC and the Supreme Court. Rajmani Verma, counsel for an IIT Bombay PhD student Omkar Supekar in the second PIL also argued that there can be no reclamation or damage to the heritage lake when the DCR clearly states that within 100 meters of the water body there could be no construction. Advocate Manoj Shirsat counsel for intervenor activist Zoru Bhathena had also argued that the cycle track project work was reclamation which is impermissible. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/bombay-hc-holds-powai-lake-cycling-project-work-illegal-stops-it-orders-removal-of-work/articleshow/91375446.cms  (07 May 2022)

Survey Gondia lake to declare it as wetland for Sarus conservation: HC Upset with little progress made by respondents to protect the Sarus crane species in Vidarbha, Nagpur bench of Bombay high court on Jan 27 2022 directed the State Wetland Authority (SWA) to survey a lake and adjoining areas near Gondia airport to inform whether it could be declared as wetland for conservation of the bird. The directives came after the HC was informed that the lake spread over 22 ha is an excellent place, where Sarus are found in abundance and thrive, and therefore, it should be declared as wetland.

While adjourning the hearing by four weeks in suo motu PIL over dwindling habitat of the world’s tallest flying bird, and the challenges faced in its conservation and protection, the bench asked all respondents to file compliance report as per its Jan 5 order. Earlier amicus curiae Radhika Bajaj pointed out that though several directives were issued in the last hearing, the compliance reports by respondents are yet to be submitted and it is not known what steps are taken by each of them. However, assistant government pleader NS Rao and Kartik Shukul appearing for other respondents pointed out that the two-month period for submitting replies were yet to be over. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/survey-gondia-lake-to-declare-it-as-wetland-for-sarus-conservation-hc/articleshow/89210988.cms  (30 Jan. 2022)

Jammu & Kashmir HC seeks complete status of 7 wetlands declared Ramsar sites in J&K, Ladakh The High Court of J&K and Ladakh on Sep 12 2022 sought a report from the government indicating the status of seven wetlands recognised to be of international importance and declared Ramsar Sites in J&K and Ladakh. “To focus first on the wetlands of the Ramsar sites, we require the J&K government to come clean about their status and to file a complete report regarding all these sites within six weeks,” a division bench of Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Puneet Gupta said.

Migratory birds take a flight over wet lands of Hokarsar on the outskirts of Srinagar. [File]Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

The High Court of J&K in its first order on the PIL on August 28, 2018, underlined that the “importance of preservation of wetlands and water bodies cannot be sufficiently emphasised as well as the need to set up a regulatory mechanism for all wetlands to maintain their ecological character and ultimately support their integrated management in the three regions (Kashmir, Jammu & Ladakh) of the then state J & K.” https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/state/hc-seeks-complete-status-of-7-wetlands-declared-ramsar-sites-in-jk-ladakh (13 Sep 2022)

HC seeks MOEF’s response to PIL on wetlands preservation The High Court of J&K and Ladakh Feb 1 2022 granted the MoEF one month’s time to respond to the PIL seeking preservation and management of wetlands in J&K covered under Ramsar Convention and Wetland Rules. Hearing the suo-moto PIL, a division bench of Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Sindhu Sharma granted the time for the response after Assistant Solicitor General of India (ASGI), T M Shamsi submitted that he wanted to file response on behalf of the MoEF.

The High Court following the directions by the Supreme Court on April 3, 2017, had treated an affidavit filed by the petitioner M K Balakrishnan before the apex court regarding certain wetlands which were covered under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands as PIL. The Supreme Court had asked the Chief Justices of the concerned High Courts to treat the affidavit as a suo moto PIL and, if necessary, appoint an amicus curiae to assist the court so as to ensure that the Ramsar Convention sites within their jurisdiction were properly maintained. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/kashmir/high-court-seeks-union-environment-ministrys-response-to-pil-on-jk-wetlands-preservation  (02 Feb. 2022)

Bihar “Remove waterbody encroachments in 14 districts in 4 weeks: HC The Patna High Court has directed the circle officers (COs) of Patna, Magadh, and Saran divisions (having control of over 14 districts) to remove waterbodies encroachments in their respective areas within 4 weeks. The 14 districts concerned are Patna, Nalanda, Bhojpur, Rohtas, Buxar, Kaimur, Gaya, Nawada, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Arwal, Saran, Siwan, and Gopalganj.

Taking into account the statements made on the record by the Circle Officers of all the 14 districts pertaining to the steps taken by them to remove the encroachment, the bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Partha Sarthy, however, expressed satisfaction with the efforts made by them till now. However, the Court did caution the Circle Officers that the Court would not hesitate in initiating proceedings, should the need so arise, if it is found that the affidavit filed is contrary to the factual position at the ground level. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/remove-waterbody-encroachments-14-districts-4-weeks-satisfied-steps-taken-so-far-patna-hc-to-authorities-215871  (05 Dec. 2022)

Odisha Drones to monitor illegal prawn ponds in wetlands in 4 districts The Orissa High Court on Wednesday (Oct. 26) accepted a proposal submitted by Amicus Curiae Mohit Agarwal for the deployment of drones to monitor illegal prawn culture ponds or gherries encroaching wetlands in at least four coastal districts of the state.The districts in which the drones will be deployed are Balasore, Kendrapara, Puri and Ganjam and the state government has been asked to submit an affidavit in this regard by the next date of hearing on December 5, Agarwal said. The Amicus Curiae had made the proposal for the deployment of drones after it was revealed from different affidavits made by the district administrations that physical deployment of police force is unable to check the re-emergence of dismantled gherries. https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/drones-to-monitor-illegal-prawn-ponds-in-odisha-wetlands-in-4-districts-122102601063_1.html  (27 Oct. 2022)

Uttar Pradesh NGT asks Noida authorities to report on encroachment of wetlands The NGT on April 8 2022 formed a joint committee comprising officials from the CPCB, SPCB, the State Wetlands Authority and the district magistrate and asked them to file a report within two months on the encroachment of 117 water bodies and wetlands in Noida. The green court also asked the committee to explain what is being done to conserve the water bodies in Noida. The bench, headed by justice Sudhir Agarwal and justice Arun Kumar Tyagi, gave the order while hearing a petition filed by a resident regarding the lack of protection for wetlands in the city that can help revive groundwater levels. The petition also highlighted 117 water bodies that should be urgently protected in the district. According to records, Gautam Budh Nagar is among 255 water-stressed districts in India.

Of the 1,000 ponds being profiled in Gautam Budh Nagar, 474 ponds are in Dadri, 281 in Jewar, and 245 in Sadar (which covers part of Greater Noida, Noida, Dankaur and Bisrakh). The petition said, “At present, the groundwater in the district is being over-exploited or is [at critical levels]. This is an immense strain on the limited water sources. In this regard, instead of protecting, managing and conserving the existing water bodies, along with appropriate efforts to setup new water bodies, the respondents have ignored the rampant encroachments and systematic destruction of the wetlands and water bodies.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/ngt-asks-noida-authorities-to-report-on-encroachment-of-wetlands-101649446925333.html  (09 April 2022)

Kerala Ignorance of law & its development through judgments main reason for accumulation of cases: HC The High Court recently observed that the primary cause of cases stockpiling under the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008 was the ignorance of law and its developments through judicial decisions. Justice P.V Kunhikrishnan thereby set aside orders passed by the Local Level Monitoring Committee and by the Revenue Division Officer, citing unsustainability under the law, while calling the petition a classic example of such ignorance. In this case, the permit issued by the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) under Section 27(1) of the Act to the petitioner for the construction of a commercial building on his property was subsequently revoked by the same officer pursuant to the Local Level Monitoring Committee’s (LLMC) order. The Committee’s order reported that the petitioner’s land was at a lower level in the data bank and if developed, the neighbouring properties were likely to be submerged. Aggrieved by the said orders of the RDO and LLMC, the petitioner moved the High Court. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/kerala-wetland-act-ignorance-of-law-its-development-through-judgments-main-reason-for-accumulation-of-cases-high-court-202863  (04 Aug. 2022)

Meghalaya Rejuvenate water bodies in every district: HC The High Court issued an order on Monday (June 27) directing the rejuvenation of water bodies in every district under a central scheme. https://theshillongtimes.com/2022/06/28/rejuvenate-water-bodies-in-every-district-hc/  (28 June 2022)

Arunachal Pradesh Protect water bodies from pollution: DC Tawang DC Kesang Ngurup Damo appealed to the people of the dist to conserve the natural water bodies & protect these drinking water sources from contamination by not littering them. He said that, as per hearsay, there are 108 lakes in Tawang but satellite images confirmed that there are 135 lakes. https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2022/02/27/protect-water-bodies-from-pollution-dc/ (27 Feb 2022)

Some Controversial Decisions

Maharashtra HC allows felling of 22K mangrove trees The Bombay High Court on Dec. 9 2022 allowed the plea of National High Speed Rail Corp (NHSRCL) for the felling of 21,997 mangrove trees in Mumbai, Palghar and Thane to clear the route for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project “in public interest” subject to various conditions. The court asked NHSRCL to abide by its undertaking that it will strictly comply with all terms and conditions set out in the approvals of the projects and its assurances to the court. It refused a request by the NGO Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG), an intervenor, to stay operation of its order.

In 2020, NHSRCL had filed a plea seeking to cut trees for the project. It had assured the court it would plant five times the total mangrove trees that were earlier proposed. TIE

The plea stated that the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) and the MoEF&CC (in its March 29, 2019, direction) had requested to shift the Virar and Thane stations of the project, which were supposed to be situated near the mangroves so that the number of affected trees could be reduced. It added that as per the directions, the NHSRCL changed the alignment and shifted these stations, resulting in the requirement of removing only 21,997 mangrove trees, instead of the 53,467 proposed earlier. The corporation also said it has taken permission from all authorities concerned.

However, BEAG, also known as Conservation Action Trust, had objected to granting such a permission and said the NHSRCL cannot use explosives for construction in the prohibited area and relaxation for such activities should not be granted. The NGO, through advocate Sheetal Shah, also said that no study was undertaken about the survival rate of saplings to be planted as a compensatory measure and the EIA report for felling trees has not been provided. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/mumbai-bullet-train-project-trees-bombay-high-court-8314908/  (09 Dec. 2022)

Tamil Nadu HC restrains villagers from protesting against wetland acquisition for CPCL refinery expansion The Madras High Court has restrained villagers owning land around the Chennai Petroleum Corp Ltd (CPCL) refinery at Muttam near Nagore in Nagapattinam dist from staging an indefinite sit-in on a private land against the acquisition of 696.93 acres for the expansion of the refinery. Admitting a State appeal against permission granted by a single judge for the protest, Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy said it would be advisable for the landowners not to indulge in any protest and instead await the outcome of the cases filed by some of the land-owners seeking fair compensation.

According to Advocate-General R. Shunmugasundaram, CPCL, a Central public sector undertaking functioning under the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, had decided to expand at an estimated cost of ₹27,460 crore. It planned to acquire 633.74 acres of private wetland, 16.62 acres of private dryland and 46.57 acres of government land. While the acquisition of government land was complete, the State government had appointed tahsildars to complete the acquisition of private land under the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Industrial Purposes Act, 1997. The land is being acquired in Panangudi, Gopurajapuram and Narimanam villages. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/hc-restrains-villagers-from-protesting-against-wetland-acquisition-for-cpcl-refinery-expansion/article65750242.ece  (09 Aug. 2022)

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

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