Changing Yamuna’s Course: Why Green Tribunal in India Needs Attention

Changing The Course of The Yamuna: Why The Green Tribunal In India Needs To Be Paid Attention To

Lata Krishnamurti Environment ,,,,,,

“The 22 kilometers of the Yamuna flowing into the NCR and its further course to Mathura and Agra is a sewer carrying untreated and toxic sewage from domestic and industrial waste”

As I read through the 98-page judgment of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which was created under a legislation passed in 2010, what kept coming to my mind were the two common place adages – “Too much law too little justice” and “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Please pardon my flippancy but you would presently see what I mean.

In 1986, the Indian Parliament was goaded into bringing into force the Environment (Protection) Act by the decision of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972, in which it urged all member states to resolve to protect and enhance the environmental quality.

The act gave huge powers to Central Government to protect and improve the environment and, for this purpose, create authorities that would regulate and perform the functions of the Act. The Act saw the birth of a crop of bureaucratic set up.

Apart from the central authorities, the Delhi Jal Board was born in 1998; its main function was to ensure the supply of clean drinking water. In 1987, a National Water Resources Council was constituted with no less a person than the Prime Minister as its Chairman. National Water Policy was framed and revised and the final version is of 2012. All this is only to demonstrate the too much law and the too many cooks part of the adage.

The NGT in its judgment has complained of lack of coordination among these various bodies and the complete lack of will of these authorities to seriously address the problem of the Pollution of ‘River’ Yamuna in India’s capital, Delhi.

[box]The River Yamuna has the dubious distinction of ranking 5th among the 10 most polluted rivers of the world.[/box]

The 22 kilometers of the Yamuna flowing into the NCR and its further course to Mathura and Agra is a sewer carrying untreated and toxic sewage from domestic and industrial waste because of

( a ) inadequate and defective sewage treatment plants;

( b ) dumping of construction debris into the river;

( c ) run off from the surrounding agricultural activities of the chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides.

The lack of seriousness in enforcing the laws to protect the environment and the violation of Fundamental Duty by the residents of NCR to protect the environment has been commented upon more than once in the 98 page judgment of the NGT. The Judgment was given in a petition filed by two public-spirited retired civil servants.

Image courtesy of NY Times
Image courtesy of NY Times

The Tribunal appointed an Expert Committee and a further Specialized Committee consisting of experts to examine the scientific data collected. A report was filed by the Expert Committee appointed by the Tribunal titled ‘Restoration and Conservation of River Yamuna’.

The Tribunal has made the Report an integral part of the Judgment thus delivering a master stroke in that the Government cannot dilute its stringency. The judgment lays down the following :-

“1. All solid waste dumps, including those used for roads and bunds, within the active floodplain should be removed forthwith.

  1. All solid waste recycling units, farm houses, cattle farms and nurseries must be relocated at the earliest.
  2. Construction of new bunds, roads and guide bunds, widening of existing bunds, spurs and guide bunds within the active floodplains should be stopped and banned.
  3. No filling of the floodplain / riverbeds be allowed in the name of development and renovation of ghats. The floodplain under built up areas at Sur Ghat and Quedsia Ghat should be 47 recovered. All recreational facilities for people visiting ghats should be created close to the embankments/roads where a channel taken out from the water course of the river can be brought for the purpose.
  4. All settlements encroaching upon the floodplain (with the exceptions noted in the detailed report) should be relocated at the earliest.
  5. Construction of new barrages and roads, railway and metro bridges, and embankments and bunds should not be permitted. In exceptional cases, a critical assessment of their potential impacts on flood aggravation and environmental clearances should be made mandatory.
  6. There is a shortage of landfill sites in Delhi. Immediate action is required to identify additional landfill sites catering to the next 25 years of requirement. Action is also required to identify more sites for recycling of building material waste.”

One poignantly remembers Leonardo da Vinci words “Water is the driving force of all nature” and the more recent lamentation of Sylvia Earle “No water, no life. No blue, no green.”

At least now will the Government get it right ? After all, the English transformed Thames from a stinking sewer to clean and beautiful river teeming with life barely 60 years ago.