Revival of Ulhas river: Supreme Court summons Maharashtra secretary, municipal chiefs

Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai
Oct 07, 2017 12:52 AM IST

The court has asked the state to list steps taken to revive the river

The Supreme Court (SC) rapped the Maharashtra state government yet again on Friday regarding inadequate efforts taken to check pollution at the Ulhas river.

The SC bench of justice Madan B Lokur and justice Deepak Gupta directed the state chief secretary and municipal commissioners from Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation, the Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation, the Ambarnath Municipal Council and Badlapur Municipal Corporations to be present in person during the next hearing scheduled on November 14 and respond regarding steps being taken to restore the river.

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In an order from August 14, the apex court told the state government that there was ‘absolutely no coordination between authorities to protect the rivers’. “From a reading of the judgment and order passed by the tribunal, it is clear that these rivers are more or less dead due to pollution,” the SC order had said.

On Friday, petitioners NGO Vanashakti submitted affidavits and pictures highlighting how the Khemani nullah was releasing untreated sewage into the Ulhas River and the colour of the river had turned red. “The chief secretary and municipal commissioners need to inform the court about how they are going to deal with this issue, develop a timeline and mechanism, and when they will be able to adhere to the timeline of restoring the river. They need to either submit these details in the form of an affidavit or respond orally in court,” said Zaman Ali, counsel appearing for the petitioners.

A state government official told HT that their counsel, Mukul Rohtagi argued that funds had already been dispensed by the state government to ensure restoration of the river but the civic bodies had failed to act on it. “The Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) Powai, concerned authorities from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) has already developed a plan for the Ulhas and Waldhuni river restoration and it has been shared with the civic bodies as well. In consultation with the civic chiefs, all details will be submitted to the court by the next hearing,” he said.

Ali added the SC bench verbally directed the state to take over functions from the civic bodies and ensure on-ground restoration work should begin. “The bench was shocked when they saw the colour of the water at the juncture where Khemani nullah meets Ulhas. We told the court that just 50 metres away from this spot lies the pumping station for providing drinking water to the Ulhasnagar city. These details made the court very unhappy and since the litigation is going since 2012, the bench was thoroughly disappointed,” he said.

The petitioner welcomed SC’s decision. “It is shocking that even after the National Green Tribunal judgement the municipal corporation is releasing untreated sewage into the drinking water zone. It is high time that the accountability of top brass in the state is assessed or else this river will surely die,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanshakti.

HT had reported on October 4 that Maharashtra has the most polluted rivers in India with a maximum of 49 of 315 polluted river stretches across 29 states. Rivers such as Ulhas, Mithi, Godavari, Bhima, Krishna, Mula-Mutha, Pelhar, Penganga, Vaitarna, were some of the rivers in the list. HT reported on September 25 that at least 3,000 million litres of untreated sewage and industrial effluents are discharged into Maharashtra’s rivers, lakes and other water bodies polluting them and the groundwater every day.

Timeline of the Ulhas pollution issue in courts

•In 2012, NGO Vanashakti filed a petition with the NGT to direct the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board to shut all polluting industries discharging untreated effluents into the Ulhas river in violation of environment rules.

•The western bench of NGT passed an order in July 2015 indicting Dombivili Industries Association (DBESA), Ulhas Nagar Municipal Corporation, the Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation, the Ambarnath Municipal Council etc. as being guilty of polluting Ulhas river with untreated effluents and also with raw sewage. The judgement imposed a penalty of Rs 96 crores to restore the river and ordered that a time bound revival plan be put in place.

•Following the NGT order in July 2015, the government agencies moved the Bombay High Court (HC), which stayed the tribunal’s order of depositing the fine by the municipal bodies and the industries association.

•In early 2016, Vanashakti filed a special leave petition challenging the HC’s decision.

•On July 5, the SC passed an order staying the HC judgement. The apex court on July 17 directed the respondents to pay the fine and said that the civic bodies and the industries have the option of either filing a review in NGT or take the matter to the SC itself, within three weeks. The respondents chose the latter.

•In an order from August 14, SC said that the amounts ordered by NGT may not be deposited at this stage. The court also directed the two state government officers to appear before the court only after taking stock of the revival plan for the rivers after consulting the director, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) Powai, concerned authorities from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur and the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO).

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    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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