NGT says water not only for those who can afford bottled water, no citizen can be deprived of potable water
As industries continue to pollute river water in the districts of Saharanpur, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Meerut in Uttar Pradesh for over two decades and hundreds of people falling prey to cancer every year due to consumption of contaminated water, the National Green Tribunal has ordered that victims of the diseases must be given treatment at the cost of polluters.
A bench of NGT chairperson Justice AK Goel, judicial members Justice Jawad Rahim and SP Wangdi and expert member Nagin Nanda also recommended monetary compensation for victims of pollution and ordered that an action plan be prepared for all 302 polluted river stretches across India.
The bench so ordered while hearing a petition moved by Doaba Paryavaran Samiti seeking directions against the industries—sugar mills, distilleries, paper mills, electroplating, slaughter houses, wet blues hides etc.,—running illegally and polluting the river water by dumping hazardous material in Saharanpur, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Muzaffarnagar, Shamli and Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.
The petitioner informed the bench that the inhabitants of areas on the banks of Kalinadi, Krishna and Hindon rivers were forced to consume highly polluted water from the rivers and are suffering from diseases like hepatitis, cholera, kidney failure, liver damage, mental retardation, cancer, bone diseases, deformities of the newborns and several other fatal diseases.
On being tested, the water is found to be containing highly toxic metals like cadmium, zinc, chrome, nickel, iron, lead, fluoride and mercury.
Independent studies have established that more than 71 persons in the Gangnoli village of the Baghpat district died from cancer in the last two years and more than 47 persons are bedridden for the past 3 to 5 years. More than 1,000 people are affected by diseases. Others affected are inhabitants of 154 villages inhabited by 50 lakh people.
Victims be treated at cost of polluters
“We are of the opinion those who have been victims of the diseases on account of polluted water cannot be ignored and must be given a treatment at the cost of polluters. This also should be a part of the action plan so that persons who had suffered diseases are provided treatment first from the State funds and the amount recovered from the polluters. Recovery of the amount from the polluters can be an ongoing separate exercise and a separate pool of funds can be created for the treatment of victims from the amount recovered.
“Appropriate schemes may be required to be framed in this regard at the level of CPCB, Chief Secretaries as well as the District Magistrates. The scheme of the States and District Magistrates must coincide with the scheme of CPCB, except that better facilities may be provided in the individual schemes of District Administration then the facilities envisaged in the scheme of CPCB, there is need for provision of monetary compensation to those who have been rendered disabled or have even met an unfortunate death. Apart from monetary compensation in suitable cases, the State may consider giving employment to a dependent of such victims,” the tribunal ordered.
No prosecution of polluters despite law in place
The NGT expressed concern that the polluting industries have not been prosecuted for these many years despite there being legal provisions for the same.
“The statutory provisions particularly Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 contain penal provisions to deal with those who discharge pollutants in the water bodies. Section 44 read with Sections 25 and 26 of the said Act provides for a minimum sentence of 1 year and 6 months and for a repeat of the offence not less than two years.
“In spite of categorical evidence, there is no information whether any such prosecution has taken place against the alleged offenders in the present case. Unless the offenders are punished for serious offence of discharge of effluents in rivers and other water bodies, the pollution continues threatening the very existence of the inhabitants. There, is thus patent failure in performance of duty…The law has entrusted important public duty but the statutory Boards are in breach of trust reposed in them,” it said.
The tribunal then ordered the CPCB and the State Pollution Control Board to compile entire information about the prosecution initiated, action plans prepared by the State Pollution Control Board and the action taken by the district administration and furnish a comprehensive report on January 31, 2019.
Prepare action plan for all 302 polluted stretches
It is to be noted that on January 16, 2018, the NGT had constituted a committee comprising Central Pollution Control Board, Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board, Jal Nigam and AB Akolkar, former member secretary of CPCB, to carry out a survey of surface of rivers i.e., river Kali, river Hindon and river Krishna and other small rivulets and drains meeting Hindon river and of the groundwater in the area which is the subject matter of the instant application.
Akolkar informed the tribunal that there were 302 polluted river stretches in the country and similar problems were being faced elsewhere.
“We direct that similar action plan based on the monitoring protocol with respect to river Hindon be prepared for each of the said 302 polluted stretches for which the CPCB may take lead in the matter and to start with identify at least 10 most critically polluted stretches across the country and submit a report on similar format as that of river Hindon,” the bench ordered.
Having regard to the inaction of the authorities, the NGT has also put in place an independent oversight mechanism by constituting a committee comprising Justice SU Khan, former judge, Allahabad High Court, a senior scientist from MOEF&CC and a senior scientist/engineer of CPCB to oversee directions of the tribunal.