Doodh Ganga Pollution: NGT Slaps Rs 3 Cr Penalty On J&K

Srinagar- The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday imposed an unprecedented penalty of Rs three crore on the Jammu and Kashmir government for its “acknowledged failure” in preventing pollution in Doodh Ganga river.

“The state is accordingly held liable to pay interim compensation of Rs. One crore each under all the three heads which may be deposited in a separate account to be utilized for restoration of the environment. The amount may be deposited with the District Magistrate, Budgam and spent as per plan approved by the Chief Secretary.” reads the order, a copy of which lies with Kashmir Observer.

The order was issued by NGT’s Principal bench comprising Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, chairperson, Justice Sudhir Agarwal, judicial member and Professor A. Senthil vel, expert member while hearing a case titled, “Raja Muzaffar Bhat Versus Union of India & Ors. on Tuesday”.

As per the principal bench, it will be open to the State to recover the amount from the polluters or erring officers in accordance with law.

“For illegal mining, the loss caused to the State in the form of value of minerals as well as the loss caused to the environment for undertaking such activity without requisite clearances needs to be recovered by the State PCB[Pollution Control Board]...” noted the three bench panel.

Pertinently, the applicant in this case had alleged that the administration had failed to prevent illegal mining, discharge of sewage and dumping of solid waste into river Doodh Ganga and Mamath Kull in violation of provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

The applicant had also alleged that The Srinagar Municipal Corporation was continuously discharging untreated sewage in river Doodh Ganga from 13 dewatering pumping stations installed at various locations on the banks of river Doodh Ganga.

“Till date no STPs has been established by the Srinagar Municipal Corporation or any other Government Body in the entire stretch around river Doodh Ganga as a result of which all the untreated sewage from residential, commercial establishments, shopping malls, butcher houses, poultry shops, laboratories, diagnostic centers and domestic sewage are directly discharged into the river without any scientific treatment.” the applicant had said.

On 14th January, a five-member Joint Committee—that was constituted by NGT—of CPCB, J&K PCC, Deputy Commissioners, Srinagar and Budgam and the Director, Urban Local Bodies, J&K had filed its report acknowledging the violations but without any meaningful remedial action.

The violations that were found by the five member joint committee included dumping of waste on the banks of the river, discharge of untreated sewage into the river, unregulated illegal mining activities and failure to protect the embankments of the river.

“Once such serious violations have been found by the State authorities, failure to take stringent action shows apathy to the obligation of the State under the Constitution, particularly the Public Trust Doctrine of ensuring clean environment by protecting rivers and other natural assets. The attitude of indefinitely waiting for funds from outside agencies is not merely ignorance of law but failure of responsibility.” reads the order.

The three member bench has further noted that the report of the Additional Secretary has not given the status of Mamath Kull river.

“Though water quality is said to be meeting primary water quality criteria, the issue of dumping of solid waste on the banks of Mamath Kull remains unaddressed.” the bench noted.

While mentioning the State’s failure in preventing pollution in Doodh Ganga river, The NGT’s three bench panel directed the Chief Secretary, J&K to take immediate remedial action to remedy the situation by “ensuring clean environment and also taking coercive measures against the erring irresponsible officers, acting in contempt of directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and this Tribunal and causing detriment to the environment and public health.”

The panel has also ordered the Chief Secretary to personally file an action taken report before the Tribunal after interaction with the concerned officers within three months.

“The report may specify status of facilities to treat sewage as well as fecal sludges, protection of flood plain, lifting of waste from the banks of Doodh Ganga and Mamath Kull to the identified sites and processing it as per MSW rules, cow dung management and other associated issues.

Pertinently, while referring to the Doodh Ganga violations as “large scale continuing violations”, the bench has directed the Principal Secretary, Urban Development, J&K to remain present in person on the next date of hearing.

Notably, last year, Kashmir Observer, in its weekly Inkishaf program titled, “TROUBLED WATERS OF DOODHGANGA” had highlighted how Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) was violating the Water (prevention & control of pollution) Act 1974; Section 24 (b), by draining untreated sewage waste into Doodh Ganga and destroying the river.

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Zaid Bin Shabir

Zaid Bin Shabir is a special correspondent at Kashmir Observer. He tweets @Zaidbinshabir

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