Extolling the ‘most celebrated river of all times’, the National Green Tribunal on Thursday laid out the ‘way ahead’ and shared ‘a new perspective’ for cleaning and rejuvenating Ganga river in the next two years with a string of directions, including announcement of Rs. 50,000 environmental compensation for every act of throwing any kind of waste in the river or its tributaries.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar directed that “for each default, the defaulter would be liable to pay environmental compensation of Rs. 50,000 per default for such dumping and/or throwing the waste of any kind into the river”.
Remarking on how the “Ganga Jal, which had the capacity even to purify added water from other sources, has become water full of faecal material, metals and other pollutants”, Justice Kumar spelt out exhaustive measures to check all industrial and sewerage pollution in 2,525 km-long Ganga river which flows through five states in India.
The tribunal also prohibited dumping of waste within 500 metres of the river with directions that “there shall be no dumping or landfill sites for any kind of waste irrespective of any technology for waste processing, within 500 meters from the edge of the river Ganga and/or its tributaries”.
“The state government, its instrumentalities, Departments and concerned public authorities shall ensure that there are no encroachments, unauthorized illegal constructions on the banks/flood plain of the major drains, river Ganga and its tributaries. Preferably, these areas should be utilised for creation of a Green Belt and biodiversity park, etc. (natural fringes of effluent and sewage).”
The tribunal stressed on shifting of all tanneries and gave specific directions with regard to 86 drains joining river Ganga and its tributaries.
“The State Government, its instrumentalities, Departments and concerned public authorities shall ensure that all the 86 drains specified in the judgment as well as other major drains and sewerage line connecting thereto shall be dredged, cleaned of sludge and waste removed therefrom within a period of six weeks from the date of pronouncement of the judgment,” it said.
Time-bound Action Plan
The Tribunal expressly stated that all planning post the judgement should be completed within six weeks, while various works identified and directed in judgement must commence within four months and construction of STP/CETP or installation of any other anti-pollution devices, laying of pipeline should be completed positively within two years.
In an exhaustive 543-page judgement, the Tribunal said, “Once the projects in terms of this judgement are completed, preventive, precautionary and remedial steps, as directed, are taken, stretch of 500 kilometres of river Ganga besides its tributaries shall be cleaned and rejuvenated”.
“We not only express a pious hope but we are confident that all stakeholders will work in tandem and extend full cooperation to each other to implement this judgement,” said Justice Kumar.
The judgement has been passed on six different petitions, the oldest being by advocate M C Mehta filed in 1985 and transferred to NGT by the Supreme Court in 2014.
‘Segment Over Hot Spot’ Approach
Thursday’s judgment deals with the 500-km stretch of Ganga from Haridwar to Unnao in Kanpur. The stretch is Segment B of the project, as spelt out by the NGT. Measures to clean Segment A, which is the 450-km stretch of Ganga in Uttarakhand, stands covered in a judgment delivered by the tribunal in December 2015.
The tribunal adopted the segment approach over the failed hot spot approach where action was taken on certain spots found to be more polluted. The same never delivered results as is evident from the failure of Ganga Action Plan -I and II.
The tribunal said the failure of earlier projects on Ganga river forced it “to look for a new beginning or way ahead with new perspective, which is technically feasible, economically viable, and practically executable with tested modern technology, appropriate technical inputs from the stakeholders, expert institutions as to performance and planning, free from fundamental errors”.
Environmental Conservation Charges
The tribunal left it to the authorities to see if they can levy environmental conservation charge while going over the duty of one and all to conserve environment.
“We also grant liberty and in fact, it shall be desirable for every local authority to recover environmental conservation charges from the public at large or in any case a class of persons responsible for generating higher sewage. Appropriate decisions in this regard shall be taken by the local authorities in accordance with law and should be duly publicized within the municipal limits of the authority,” it said.
“In any event, the State, its instrumentalities, local authorities and all other public servants would extend their full cooperation for effectively implementing and executing the directions contained in this judgment. If any officer/official is found to be causing unnecessary impediments in compliance of the judgment, the officer/official concerned shall be liable to be proceeded against, in accordance with law including action for Contempt of Court and payment of personal costs as well,” the NGT said before concluding as a word of caution against any lackadaisical approach.
NGT Extols Ganga
Ganga is Holy, thus, “he who has drunk your pure water, indeed he will obtain the highest abode”. This depicts the extent to which millions of Indians and people from abroad have put their faith in Ganga. It is pristine, it is perennial and probably one of the most celebrated river of all times.
The tribunal opened its judgment with words of praise for the Ganga and how its water has the quality to kill germs when added to water from any other source.
The bench also referred to how the Ganga was given the status of “first living entity of India” by the Uttarakhand High Court in a judgment, which has come to be stayed by the Supreme Court.
Lack Of Funds Can’t Be A Defence
The bench also discussed the drawbacks and weaknesses of Ganga Action Plan-I, which was introduced in the year 1986. It was launched in 25 selected towns located alongside the river in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. GAP-II was launched in the year 1993.
“To put it succinctly, GAP-I and GAP-II did not produce the desired results. On the contrary, pollutant levels in river Ganga touched new heights. The Ganga Jal, which had the capacity even to purify the added water from other sources, has become water full of faecal material, metals and other pollutants,” the NGT said.
It noted that huge funds were made available under the national project as declared by the Prime Minister wherein Rs. 20,000 crores have been allocated for 2015- 2020.
“Even after spending Rs. 7304.64 crores upto March 2017, by the Central Government, State Government and local authorities of the State of UP, the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality or otherwise and it continues to be a serious environmental issue,” the bench said.