Of whopping expense and 'Maili Ganga'
In a landmark judgment that could bring about a significant change in the quality of river Ganga, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday prohibited dumping of waste within 500m of the river, also declaring an area of 100m from the edge of the Ganga between Haridwar and Unnao a 'No Development Zone'.
On the other hand, despite the government spending over Rs 7,000 crore in two years to cleanse the Ganga, it still remains a 'serious environmental issue', as the NGT observed: "Even after an expenditure of Rs 7304.64 crores up to March 2017 by the Central Government, State Government, and local authorities 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."
Petitioner Mehta has demanded a CBI enquiry into the spending of over Rs 7,000 crore by the Central and state government in cleaning the 500 km stretch of the Ganga between Haridwar and Unnao in Uttar Pradesh. Raising this issue, he said, "River Ganga is revered by millions across the nation and it is a part of our civilisation. The amount spent on the cleaning of Ganga has gone to waste. I think there should be an enquiry by the Government of India. There is definitely more money spent than Rs 7,000 crore. There should be a CBI enquiry or a CAG audit on how the funds have been spent, as this is the public money which has been swallowed."
Meanwhile, the tribunal has also directed the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments to formulate guidelines for conducting religious activities on the ghats of the Ganga and its tributaries, categorically stating: "Till the demarcation of floodplains and identification of permissible and non-permissible activities by the State government, we direct that 100m from the edge of the river would be treated as no development/construction zone between Haridwar to Unnao in Uttar Pradesh." Not only that, in a detailed judgment, the tribunal also prohibited dumping of waste within 500m of the river, ordering that every offender would be liable to pay a penalty of Rs 50,000 per default. Giving its verdict on a 1985 PIL petition of noted environment activist and lawyer MC Mehta — which was transferred to the NGT from the Supreme Court in 2014 — a Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar observed that all authorities concerned should complete various projects, including building a sewage treatment plant and cleaning drains, within two years.
The court has also appointed a supervisory committee, headed by the Secretary of Water Resources Ministry, and comprising of IIT professors and officials of the Uttar Pradesh government to oversee the implementation of directions passed in its 543-page verdict. The committee is to submit reports at regular intervals. The green court reiterated its earlier order of ban on mechanical mining in the Ganga. It said that no in-stream mechanical mining is permitted and even the mining on the floodplain should be semi-mechanical and preferably more manual.
Welcoming the NGT verdict, Mehta said the tribunal has done its job and now it is for the authorities to execute the directions in a time-bound manner. In the order, the NGT said all projects referred to in its verdict should be finalised by National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) also adding that it would primarily be the responsibility of the Ministry of Water Resources and NMCG to finalise these projects out of the available funds. Regarding shifting of tanneries located in Jajmau cluster in Kanpur, the bench sought an action plan from the leather units within six weeks, failing which 'the UP government shall be duty bound to close the tanneries and shift the same to Banthar, Unnao or any other developed site which it considers appropriate'.
The NGT also held that all the industrial units falling in the catchment area of Ganga and its tributaries should not be permitted to indiscriminately extract ground water and asked the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) to demarcate areas falling between Haridwar and Unnao as 'over exploited, critical, semi-critical and safe zone'. "There shall be a complete prohibition on the extraction of groundwater in critical areas. Extraction of groundwater should be subject to the CGWA granting permission for such extraction, and that too, only after ensuring rigorous water use assessment by the industry," it said. An implementation committee was also set up to provide details of the Ganga cleaning projects along with details of the manner and methodology in which these should be implemented.