The Bombay High Court has issued landmark directions to Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC) for ensuring that the river Godavari remains pollution-free. The Godavari, the second largest river in India, is also known as Dakshin Ganga (the Ganges of the South) is the main source of water supply to Nashik.
A division bench of Justice AS Oka and Justice AK Menon passed several directions while hearing petitions filed by residents of Nashik seeking directions to the NMC and others for cleaning the polluted river.
The bench quoted India’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru who said about river Ganga and said-
What Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru once said about Ganges equally applies to Godavari. He said thus:
“The Ganga, especially, is the river of India, beloved of her people, round which are intertwined her memories, her hopes and fears, her songs of triumph, her victories and her defeats. She has been a symbol of India’s agelong culture and civilization, ever changing, ever flowing…”
Apart from a detailed order dated March 7, 2014, the court had set up a committee headed by the Divisional Commissioner, Nashik, which is monitoring the implementation of the orders passed by the high court from time to time. Moreover, under the interim orders, the CSIR National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) was appointed as an expert authority which submitted various reports containing short-term and long-term measures.
The court passed interim orders from time to time for directing the implementation of the recommendations of NEERI. The implementation of the recommendations is being monitored by the said committee which has a representative of NEERI as a member.
Following issues were identified by the court:
In its detailed order dated March 7, 2014, the court had said that at the immersion of Ganesh idols during the Ganesh Festival and at the time of immersion of Durga idols during the Navratri Festival, artificial ponds shall be temporarily created. Advance publicity shall be given as regards the availability of the ponds and an appeal should be made to the members of the public to make use of the said ponds.
The court had also directed the NMC to establish centres across the city for receiving idols from the devotees for the purposes of immersion. Thereafter, the NMC was directed to immerse all the idols in such a manner that no pollution is caused.
The court noted:
“Right to live in a clean and pollution-free environment has been held to be a part of Article 21. Moreover, right to have clean drinking water is also a fundamental right which is guaranteed by Article 21. This is in the context of the fact that the water in River Godavari is a source of water supply to the said Corporation area and nearby villages. The right to live a dignified and meaningful life is also an essential part of the bundle of rights guaranteed by Article 21. If the rivers are polluted and pollution is created in and around the rivers, the fundamental right of living a dignified and meaningful life of the citizens is defeated. The fundamental right to live in a pollution free atmosphere is also violated.”
Referring to the apex court’s decisions in M.C. Mehta Vs. Kamal Nath and Nature Lovers Movement Vs. State of Kerala and Ors, the court observed that the doctrine of public trust is applicable in the country and precautionary principle that enjoins the State to take all positive steps for prevention of natural resources.
Finally, the court issued extensive directions, the most significant ones being:
(i)Set up a grievance redressal mechanism for complaints about incidents of river pollution, illegal constructions etc.
(ii) The state shall consider formulating a River Regulation Policy in place of the Policy which has been cancelled. The appropriate decision shall be taken within a period of four months from today.
(iii) Before commencement of major religious festivals, the committee headed by the Divisional Commissioner will hold periodical meetings.
(iv) We direct that the Nashik Municipal Corporation displays boards of sufficient size at strategic locations calling upon the members of the public not to throw garbage or any material whatsoever in the river.
(v) During Ganesh Chaturthi and other religious festivals, NMC is directed to set up artificial ponds and advertise amongst the public about the same.