In a detailed, 543-page verdict, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on July 13 noted that the thousands of crores spent on cleaning the Ganga had resulted in no meaningful improvement of the world’s fifth most polluted river and the lifeline of North India.
Construction activity, waste dumping hit; sewage treatment plants to be installed
Holding the government responsible for the Ganga remaining a “serious environmental issue”, the NGT issued a slew of directives aimed at hastening the cleanup and restoration of the river and the health of its environment. These directives included the banning of
- all construction activity within 100 metres of the river edge (creation of “no-development zones”) and
- dumping of waste within 500 metres from the river, ordering that every offender would be liable to pay a penalty of Rs 50,000.
The Tribunal also directed all concerned authorities to commence the work of setting up of sewage treatment plants and installation of anti-pollution devices within four months and to complete the same within two years.
The NGT bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, said, “There are considerable unutilised funds as of today, besides the huge funds that have been made available under the national project as declared by the Prime Minister wherein Rs 20,000 crore have been allocated for the five years commencing 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 order, running into 543 pages, said, “Till the demarcation of floodplains and identification of permissible and nonpermissible activities by the state government of this judgement, we direct that 100 meters from the edge of the river would be treated as no development/construction zone between Haridwar to Unnao in UP.”
All projects to be finalised by National Mission for Clean Ganga
The NGT said all projects referred to in its verdict should be finalised by National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) and said that primarily it would be the responsibility of Ministry of Water Resources and NMCG to finalise these projects out of the available funds.
The NMCG is a registered society which aims to ensure effective reduction of pollution and rejuvenation of the river by adopting a river basin approach to promoting inter-sectoral coordination for comprehensive planning and management. The main aim of the NMCG is to maintain environmental flows in the river while ensuring water quality and environmentally sustainable development.
Industries cannot indiscriminately extract groundwater
The NGT held that all the industrial units that lie in the catchment area of the Ganga and its tributaries should be prohibited from indiscriminately extracting groundwater.
The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has been asked to carry out studies and notify areas falling between Haridwar and Unnao as “over exploited, critical, semi-critical and safe zone.”
“There shall be complete prohibition on extraction of groundwater in the critical areas… Extraction of groundwater should be subject to the CGWA granting permission for such extraction, and that too, only after ensuring that such permission is granted after rigorous water use assessment by the industry,” the NGT said.
Supervisory and implementation committees appointed
The NGT also appointed a supervisory committee, headed by the Secretary of the Water Resources Ministry and comprising IIT professors and officials from UP government to oversee implementation of its directions.
“This committee shall oversee and supervise proper and effective implementation of all the projects under this judgement and will ensure providing of funds expeditiously and finally submit the implementation-cum-progress report to the tribunal every three months,” it said.
An implementation committee was also set up to provide details of the Ganga cleaning projects and the manner and methodology in which these should be implemented.
NGT’s February observations
In February this year, the NGT criticised government agencies for wasting public money in the name of cleaning the Ganges. The Tribunal told the centre, “Not a single drop of river Ganga has been cleaned so far,” as reported by The Hindu.
“It is the fault of Central Pollution Control Board and other government agencies who are not doing their job properly. Had the authorities done their job properly, they would not be standing before the court. The authorities have done nothing. It is a misuse of public money, and everyone says that they are doing a lot to clean the Ganges, but not a single drop of the river has been cleaned,” said the NGT bench.
Furthermore, the Tribunal had also warned around 14 industrial units operating in Amroha and Bijnor districts, along with those operating on the banks of the river, to be prepared for the shutdown, while questioning them to justify why they should not face action.