NGT slams district bodies for failing to restore 490-year-old wetland in Maharashtra
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the restoration of a 490-year-old wetland in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district and directed the bank account of the state public works department (PWD) be seized since its previous orders were not adhered to.
The NGT principal bench of Justice Sheo Kumar Singh and expert member Dr Satyawan Singh Gabryal on October 9 directed the Sindhudurg district collector to ensure that an amount of Rs 1.5 crore is seized in the bank account of the PWD till the time it does not transfer the amount to State Biodiversity Board to restore the heritage Dhamapur Lake, a notified wetland.
The district administration has also been directed to take necessary steps to remove all obstructions and illegalities (in terms of construction) undertaken in violation of the Wetland 2017 rules.
The bench was hearing a 2017 application by Sindhudurg residents Dr Harishchandra Purshottam Natu and Omkar Keni before NGT, Pune, saying encroachments and the construction of skywalks around the Dhamapur Lake by the PWD with permissions issued by the district administration was shrinking the size of the lake and causing environmental degradation.
The Dhamapur Lake, an inland wetland and a permanent freshwater lake, spread over about 44.8 hectares was constructed in 1530 between villages Are and Katta. The lake is surrounded by hills and dense plantation of mango, coconut and areca palm. It is both a source of drinking water and agricultural water source. It is one of the top 100 wetlands in India identified by the Union environment ministry for rapid restoration and improvement, and also a projected Ramsar site by the Maharashtra government. There are 193 floral and 247 faunal species in this wetland.
The latest order by NGT clarified that on July 2, 2018, the Pune bench had ordered that the skywalk construction was in violation of wetland rules and had encroached the water body causing water pollution and destruction of natural biodiversity. PWD was directed to pay Rs. 1.5 crore back then for restoring the wetland and submit environment compensation costs to the State Biodiversity Board. However, the order was never followed.
“Since order has been passed against the PWD who was the project proponent thus responsibility to pay the amount is with the PWD department. Since the amount has not been deposited thus we direct that the account of the PWD be seized to the extent of Rs 1.5 crore till the amount is deposited to the biodiversity board,” the order said.
A statement to HT by advocates representing the applicant Rahul Choudhary and Kanika Sood said, “Despite the construction being illegal and within the notice of all statutory authorities, it took the order of the NGT and the subsequent declaration of the lake as a wetland for a direction to the authorities to remove the structure. Further the fine of Rs. 1.5 crores had been imposed in 2018 but no action was ever taken to comply with the order. We hope the statutory authorities comply with the latest order and preserve the wetland.”
The NGT noted the district collector. as the public representative of the state, is responsible for any activity within the district. “Accordingly, a show-cause notice be issued to the Sindhudurg collector why action should not be initiated against him/her for not taking any action with regard to the illegality committed by the officers concerned,” the order said.
In 2019, the NGT has also issued a bailable warrant against the Sindhudurg collector who had failed to appear in person despite specific directions to do so.
Shubhangi Anil Sathe, resident deputy collector, Sindhudurg, said, “We have already begun working on this issue and soon enough the bank account would be seized as directed by the NGT. Simultaneous work is underway to restore the wetland through the skywalk demolition, and all directions will be complied with.”
Applicant Omkar Keni, also a member of the Sindhudurg Wetland Brief Documentation Committee, said applicants would be submitting suggestions for the process to demolish the skywalk. “The collector should form a civil society committee for monitoring and for expert advice during demolition and restoration measures. Demolition should be done in the period of March-May following the Pollution Control Board norms under the supervision of civil society members,” he said.