Ulhas, Waldhuni rivers have almost died due to pollution, SC blames Maharashtra government
The Supreme Court (SC) rapped the state government for allowing the Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers to degrade gradually because of pollution.
A court order from August 14, which was published on Friday, said that there was ‘absolutely no coordination between authorities to protect the rivers’. The court asked the principal secretary, state environment department and member secretary of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to be present in person during the next hearing on September 18.
“We require their presence because the order passed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) shows that there is absolutely no coordination between authorities to protect the Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers,” read the order passed by the court. “It is clear in the order that these rivers are more or less dead due to pollution.”
The western bench of the NGT passed an order in July 2015 held Dombivili Industries Association (DBESA), Ulhas Nagar Municipal Corporation, the Kalyan Dombivili Municipal Corporation, the Ambarnath Municipal Council and others guilty of polluting Ulhas river with untreated effluents. The judgement imposed a penalty of Rs96 crore to restore the river.
The SC, however, said that the penalty amounts may not be deposited at this stage. The court also ordered 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, concerned authorities from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur and the National Institute of Oceanography.
In 2012, NGO Vanashakti filed a petition with the NGT to direct the MPCB to shut all polluting industries discharging untreated effluents into the Ulhas river.In July 2015, the government agencies moved the Bombay high court (HC), which stayed the tribunal’s order of depositing the fine. 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.
The current SC order was in light of a special leave petition filed by Vanashakti in the SC, challenging the HC’s decision.
“We are thankful that the SC has realised the seriousness of the pollution problem faced by these rivers and understood the buck passing by authorities over the past two years. The different tactics will come to an end. After a five-year struggle, the river will get a new lease of life,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti and petitioner.
“Rejuvenation of both rivers (Ulhas and Waldhuni) is underway. Our priority is to first treat the sewage at these rivers and bring the water quality to permissible standards. Secondly, NEERI and IIT-B had submitted their draft plans for restoration and we had incorporated our opinion. Now, the final plan will be issued soon and the restoration will begin. We will be telling the court details of the same,” said P Anbalagan, member secretary, MPCB.
“We are happy that SC has stayed the penalty as of now. We will be presenting our version of revival and restoration of these water bodies during the next hearing and hope to get relief,” said a senior official from Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation.