NGT | Ganga Pollution: Failure to take prompt action to remedy pollution of the river – restoration cost may be recovered from officers responsible

National Green Tribunal (NGT): A Coram of Justice A.K. Goel (Chairperson), Justice S.P. Wangdi (Judicial Member), Justice K. Ramakrishnan (Judicial Member) and Dr Nagin Nanda (Expert Member) took a status report of the execution of directions of the Tribunal by the respondents with regard to prevention and remedying of pollution of River Ganga.

The Tribunal had issued directions to the respondents to remedy the grave problem of pollution of River Ganga. State Governments of Uttarakhand, UP, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal had been directed by the Tribunal to set up sewage treatment plants to prevent untreated sewage and effluents from falling into River Ganga.

The Tribunal recorded dissatisfaction with the progress made by the concerned state governments and National Mission for Clean Ganga in implementing the Tribunal’s direction. It laid down further directions to ensure that the pollution problems of River Ganga get remedied. The Tribunal directed the Uttarakhand Government to remedy the Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) that weren’t meeting the norms, demarcate flood plains and remove encroachments from the river banks.

The Tribunal further held that unless prompt action to control pollution of River Ganga was taken, the Tribunal may be left with no option but to recover the cost of restoration from officers responsible for the failure and also require their prosecution. Regarding flood plains, it clarified that the distance for the no-construction zone was to be measured from the Highest Flood Lane.

The Tribunal further observed that out of 31 projects undertaken by the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) only 5 had been completed and the proposed timeline for the remaining work was now extended to December, 2021. The Tribunal held it to be against the spirit of its previous orders. The Tribunal also made it clear that NMCG would be treated to be doing its duty only if there was a decrease in pollution load and improvement in water quality in the River Ganga.

The Tribunal noted the absence of the States of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal from the hearing and directed them to deposit a sum of Rs 25 lakhs each by way of interim compensation for the continued damage to the River Ganga. NMCG was asked file to its action taken report in respect of progress on parameters of reduction of pollution load, improvement of water quality and further road map and also identifying the persons accountable and also stating the action taken for the past lapses within four weeks.[M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, 2019 SCC OnLine NGT 74, decided on 29-05-2019]

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