High levels of ammonia in the Yamuna had prompted the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to reduce or stop water production at its plants at least five times last year.(AFP PHOTO.)
High levels of ammonia in the Yamuna had prompted the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to reduce or stop water production at its plants at least five times last year.(AFP PHOTO.)

Yamuna pollution on top court radar again

The bench noted that the Constitution and judicial decisions of the past have given municipalities the mandate of setting up sewage treatment plants (STPs) and stopping effluents from reaching surface water.
By Abraham Thomas
PUBLISHED ON JAN 14, 2021 05:18 AM IST

The Supreme Court on Wednesday made a second attempt at cleaning the polluted river Yamuna, by taking suo motu cognisance of the significantly high levels of ammonia in water discharged from neighbouring Haryana into the capital.

High levels of ammonia in the Yamuna had prompted the Delhi Jal Board (DJB) to reduce or stop water production at its plants at least five times last year. On Wednesday, too, supply to many parts of the capital were affected because of the high pollution content in the river. The water utility has announced that there will be no disruption of supply on Thursday.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued notice to the ministry of environment; the ministry of housing; governments of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi and asked that they be represented on January 19, the next date of hearing.

The bench noted that the Constitution and judicial decisions of the past have given municipalities the mandate of setting up sewage treatment plants (STPs) and stopping effluents from reaching surface water. However, as seen in the present petition, the bench said, “It is often found that either the sewage is not treated through a plant before being discharged or the treatment plants are dysfunctional or incapacitated.”

The bench directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to prepare a report identifying municipalities along the stretch of the river which are yet to install STPs.

“It (CPCB) shall also submit a priority-wise list of municipalities, the river stretches adjacent to which have been found to be most polluted,” the bench, also comprising justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian, said.

A similar exercise was undertaken by the Supreme Court in July 1994, when it had taken suo motu notice of a HT report “And Quiet Flows the Maili Yamuna”. After monitoring the case for 23 years and gaining little success, the apex court on April 24, 2017, transferred the petition to the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

In an oblique reference to that order, the bench said, “It is clarified that the suo motu petition and directions issued herein, shall not in any way dilute any other directions issued by other court or tribunal.”

What prompted the top court to examine the matter a second time was a petition filed by the DJB to stop the Haryana government from discharging pollutants into the river. Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who appeared for the DJB, pointed out that the level of ammonia in the river had reached alarming proportions.

On December 25 last year, ammonia concentration peaked to 13 ppm (particles per million) as against the permissible limit of 0.5 ppm.

Arora said, “The water treatment plants of DJB are able to treat water with ammonia content up to 0.9 ppm. Our plants at Chandrawal, Wazirabad and Okhla are forced to function at nearly 50% capacity. The problem is with Haryana as their STPs do not work. They should not discharge untreated sewerage into the river. Ammonia mixed with chlorine can cause cancer. We cannot supply this water to residents.”

DJB in its petition demanded an immediate order against Haryana to stop discharge of pollutants into the river.

Pointing to the “extremely dire and urgent situation” facing Delhi, DJB in its petition, filed by advocate Shadan Farasat, said, “The water treatment plants at Wazirabad, Chandrawal, Okhla, Sonia Vihar and Bhagirathi may not be able to process/pump any water at all due to the extremely high impurity levels. This would completely disrupt the supply of drinking water in the NCT of Delhi.”

The bench said, “We find that in addition to the issue raised by the present petition, it will be appropriate to take suo motu cognizance with regard to the issue of contamination of rivers by sewage effluents and ensure that the mandate is implemented by municipalities as far as discharge of sewage into rivers is concerned…We deem it appropriate at this stage to start with the issue of contamination of river Yamuna.”

The court appointed Arora as amicus curiae to assist them in the petition. The court issued notice to Haryana government and CPCB and posted the matter to January 19.

DJB vice-chairperson Raghav Chadha on Wednesday released a video in which he alleged that the ammonia levels in Delhi are high because of the untreated waste being dumped into the river by Haryana.

“When DJB’s repeated appeals to the Haryana government yielded no result, we had to approach Supreme Court for a viable solution. I am happy that the CJI has issued a notice to the Haryana government and listed the matter for urgent hearing on Tuesday, January 19. I am hopeful that the decision will be in favour of the residents of Delhi,” he said.

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