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Mumbai’s Mithi river to be restored, SC tells Maharashtra government to deposit Rs50 lakh

In an order from August 16, the SC asked for the formation a team to ensure the pollution levels in the river reduce and its restoration work begins soon.

mumbai Updated: Aug 20, 2017 17:55 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai news,Mithi river,Supreme Court
HT had reported on May 10 that Mithi river is the most polluted water body in the city, a state pollution control board’s water quality assessment had revealed. (HT Photo)

In view of the state government’s apathy towards restoring the Mithi river – which flooded Mumbai in 2005, killing more than 1,000 people – the Supreme Court slammed the Maharashtra government for not taking any effective steps to rectify the situation over the past 12 years.

In an order from August 16, published on Saturday, the SC asked for the formation a team – comprising the director of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B) and director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) – convened by the either the state government or the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), to ensure the pollution levels in the river reduce and its restoration work begins soon.

The court directed the state, or the SEIAA, to deposit Rs50 lakh with the court for expenses that will be incurred by the joint committee to study and restore the river.

“We have been informed that as a result of the floods, more than 1,000 people had died and perhaps several thousand had fallen ill with various diseases due to the polluted water in Mumbai,” the Apex Court order said. “Notwithstanding this tragedy of enormous proportions, no effective steps appear to have been taken by anybody in the state of Maharashtra to remedy the situation in spite of the fact that a little more than 12 years have gone by.”

NGOs Jalbiradari and Vanashakti had raised these issues three years ago before the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Environmentalists allege that hundreds of crores have been spent to restore Mithi river, but it continues to degrade with pollution levels much more above the permissible limit.

“The joint team will give us a factual report on what has transpired so far, what is the extent of damage caused to Mithi river, what steps can be taken to remedy the damage, and short term and long term future course of action,” said the order passed by the SC bench of justice Madan B Lokur and justice Deepak Gupta.

The directors of IIT-B and NEERI have been directed to nominate experts to the joint committee and submit a report within three months. The matter has been scheduled to be heard on October 10.

HT had reported on May 10 that Mithi river is the most polluted water body in the city, a state pollution control board’s water quality assessment had revealed. The analysis said that biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) — the level of oxygen that affects the quality of water, which plants and animals need for survival – was 250 milligram per litre (mg/l) in Mithi, as against the safe limit of 20 mg/l as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

The SC also directed the additional chief secretary, state environment department, Satish Gavai, to be the convener of the committee. “I am convening a meeting with both agencies [IIT-B and NEERI] on Tuesday. We will be assessing what damage has been caused to the river as a consequence of construction by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and whether all environmental clearances were granted,” Gavai told HT. “We will try to submit a mitigation/restoration plan to the Apex Court well before the next hearing.”

The petitioners welcomed the SC order. “Under the guise of flood control, various civil works were undertaken. The real reason for this was to spend public money and make the river a cash cow for milking funds,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanshakti. “The entire estuary of the river has been taken over by real estate and encroachments. Removal of encroachments from the flood plains, stopping the discharge of untreated sewage and industrial effluents into the river was left unaddressed.”

First Published: Aug 20, 2017 17:55 IST