To save Mahanadi river, NGT orders setting up expert panel to lay down norms
Taking a dim view of Naveen Patnaik government’s attempts to reclaim the river bed of Mahanadi near Cuttack to expand the SCB Medical College and Hospital, the National Green Tribunal has formed a panel of experts from the Central Water Commission, National Institute of Hydrology and state and central pollution control board for laying down norms to ensure that the construction of the medical college and river front development takes place without damage to the flood plains of the river.
“The (Mahanadi) riverbed is likely to be affected by setting up of the medical college or other permanent constructions in the floodplain of the river. Encroachment of Kathajodi and Mahanadi rivers and construction in floodplain area may adversely affect the riverine ecology. There is a need to prevent irreversible damage to the riverine ecology by enforcing the applicable rules. Flood plain zones need to be identified and demarcated in the light of such norms. The Committee may identify the extent of floodplain zone/active floodplain zone from the edge of the river. The committee may complete its exercise within four months,” the four-judge bench of NGT headed by chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said.
The NGT order came in response to a petition filed by Dilip Samantray, a Cuttack-based citizen to the state government’s plan of transforming the state-run SCB Medical College and Hospital into an “AIIMS Plus” institute with an expenditure of Rs 1000 crore earlier this year. Samantray in his petition had alleged that illegal construction activities such as Panchamukhi Hanuman Temple, paddy threshing ground and proposed structures such as toilet, graveyard, market complex, Kalyan mandap and other activities adversely affect the river ecology and disturbed the flow of Mahanadi river.
“The reclamation of land from our lifeline Mahanadi has created once in a lifetime opportunity to breathe fresh life into the core of our ancient city,” chief minister Naveen Patnaik had said while unveiling the plan in January this year. As per the plan, 424 acres of land were to be reclaimed from Mahanadi river for expansion of the medical college though the state government in its affidavit before the NGT said a new campus of SCB medical college is proposed on 25 acres of land reclaimed from the river.
The NGT said there is no central legislation to regulate the flood plains, except an October 2016 notification issued by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation, with respect to Ganga river, under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, prohibiting any construction in the active floodplain area of river Ganga or its tributaries.
“The Water Resources Ministry circulated a model Bill on the subject in 1975 but the same did not fructify into law. There are some State Acts like Manipur Flood Zoning Act, 1978 and the Uttarakhand Flood Plain Zoning Act, 2012. The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 prohibit any permanent constructions within 50 meters of the Wetlands, from the mean high flood level in the past 10 years from the commencement of the rules. In Maharashtra, there are norms for demarcating regulatory and prohibitory zones in the floodplains of the rivers. There are also similar restrictions in certain Master Plans like the Revised Master Plan of Bangalore restricting constructions in catchment area of the lakes,” said the NGT bench observing that Odisha did not appear to have any legislative and administrative measures regulating and prohibiting activities in the floodplain zones of the rivers in the state.