HC To Govt: ‘Prevent Ultimate Death Of Pangong Lake’  

SRINAGAR — The J&K High Court on Tuesday directed district administration Leh to take well planned, sustainable and scientific efforts and steps to prevent “ultimate death” of Pangong Lake.

“Lakes are not only a significant source of precious water, but extend valuable habitats to plants and animals, moderate the hydrological extreme events – drought and floods, influence microclimate, enhance the aesthetic beauty of the landscape and offer many recreational opportunities. Many of our rivers arise from the lakes at higher altitudes in the Himalayan ranges. Qua Pangong Lake, also known as Pangong Tso, is a beautiful endorheic lake situated in the Himalayas, which falls within Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary,” a bench of Justice Tashi Rabstan said.

Pangong Lake is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the country. The beauty and allure of this lake attracts people from all over the country and beyond.

“Having said that, Pangong Lake requires preservation and conservation from being contaminated and polluted under the guise of developmental works, construction and erection of structures around the lake,” the court said.

After perusal of a report by counsel for petitioner, the court said it reveals that a slew of camps/restaurants/ structures has been set up illegally and are being operated along bank of Pangong Lake without any permission, generating constantly all type effluences and contaminants.

“As a consequence whereof posing serious threat to the very existence of the Pangong Lake, besides snuffing out ecologically fragile region as also wildlife,” the court observed.

Notices under J&K Wildlife Protection Act were served upon encroachers, the court said. “Though make-believe steps on paper have been taken, yet no substantial and significant result spring therefrom. It also comes to fore that establishment of restaurants/hotels/guest houses/home stays/ camps/resorts is on spree in District Leh, depleting ground water level because innumerable borewells and handpumps are at galore.”

Right to life includes right to decent environment and right to clean environment is a guaranteed fundamental right, the court said. “Proper and healthy environment enables people to enjoy quality life which is the essence of the right guaranteed under Article 21. The State and citizens are under a fundamental obligation to protect and improve environment, including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have a compassion for living creatures. Right to have living congenial to human existence is a right to life.”

The court  further said that the State has a duty in that behalf and to shed its extravagant unbridled sovereign power and to forge in its policy to maintain ecological balance and hygienic environment. “Though the Government has power to give directions that power should be used only to effectuate and further the goals of the approved scheme, zonal plans etcetera, the hazard to health and environment of not only the persons residing in the illegal colonisation area but of the entire town as well as the provision and scheme of the relevant Act had to be taken into consideration,” the court said, adding, “The most vital necessities, namely, air, water and soil, having regard to right to life under Article 21, cannot be permitted to be misused and polluted so as to reduce the quality of life of others. The risk of harm to the environment or to human health is to be decided in public interest, according to a reasonable person’s test. Life, public health and ecology have priority over unemployment and loss of revenue. Development and protection of environment are not enemies.”

 The natural sources of air, water and soil cannot be utilised if the utilisation results in irreversible damage to environment, the court said. “There has been accelerated degradation of the environment primarily on account of lack of effective enforcement of environmental laws and non-compliance with the statutory norms,” the court said and directed district administration Leh to take well planned, sustainable and scientific efforts and steps to prevent degradation, or say ultimate death, of Pangong Lake.

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