Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Finally the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had to slash a huge penalty of Rs 3 Crores on erring government officers, and the polluters, as authorities failed to control the pollution in Doodh Ganga which is a major source of drinking water for more than a half million population in Srinagar; and some parts of Budgam district. On Tuesday March 8th 2022, my petition titled Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat v/s government of J&K was listed before the Principal Bench of National Green Tribunal. The NGT bench headed by Chairperson Adarsh Kumar Goel said that State be held liable to pay interim compensation of Rs one crore each under all the three heads i.e., solid waste, liquid waste, and illegal mining, which the violators have to deposit in a separate account of District Magistrate Budgam. The order said that dumping of waste on the banks of Doodh Ganga, discharge of untreated sewerage, and unregulated mining activities / failure to protect the embankments of this river were the main violations that were visible. The NGT order reads:
“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 acting responsibly. Environment being part of Right to Life under the Constitution, such pleas are legally untenable and impermissible. It is for the State to arrange resources for its inalienable and basic responsibility. On that pretext, damage to the environment cannot be allowed to take place or to continue. Timeline laid down under the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Paryavaran Suraksha (Supra) for ensuring setting up of all treatment equipments is 31.03.2018, and after the said date, for any failure the Secretary to the Government is liable to be prosecuted in terms of judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. This Tribunal has also issued directions for taking disciplinary action and payment of compensation for continued failure to manage waste to the detriment of environment and public health”
For more than 5 years I have been repeatedly urging the government especially District Administration Budgam, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), and Rural Development Department to check illegal garbage dumping and uncontrolled mining in Doodh Ganga. Municipal Committee Budgam is dumping waste near Mamath Kul, which violates MSW Rules 2016 and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. SMC pumps untreated sewage into Doodh Ganga through almost 13 pump stations which are now being upgraded with World Bank funded money. The SMC calls these pump stations storm water dewatering stations, while the Joint Committee constituted by NGT clearly said that during dry days as well, untreated sewage was going into Doodg Ganga. This committee consisted of DCs of Srinagar, Budgam, members of PCB, CPCB, SMC Commissioner. The same report was produced before the NGT by my counsel Advocate Rahul Chowdhary, which was vindicating my earlier claims that SMC was violating the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. The untreated waste is being pumped into Doodh Ganga at Chanapora bypass bridge, Chanapora Takiya mohalla, Pamposh Colony, Barzulla and Bulbul Bagh. Even the Rural Development Department failed to clean up the banks of Doodh Ganga around Hanjigund, Balapora, Wathoora, Kralpora and Mochwa areas. Huge amounts of plastic waste can be seen dumped in these areas as the local population has been deprived of any sanitation service by government. Under SBM Gramin the Rural Development Department is supposed to treat solid and liquid waste in rural areas under its ODF-2 programme. Not even a single project has been taken up in Budgam or any other district in the valley.
Illegal & uncontrolled mining
The mining contracts given in Shali Ganga, Doodh Ganga, or even in Sukhnag rivers of Budgam are violating the environmental laws or even Fisheries Act 2018. Same is the case with other nallahs like Ferozepur Nallah, Vaishav, Romshu, Arin, Lidder etc. These rivers have become so deep that adjoining agriculture canals will get water scarcity this year or the years to come. The Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) for mining in Doodh Ganga or Shali Ganga in Budgam are also not followed by the contractors as they are given free hand by officers of Geology, Mining and Flood Control Department. I requested the District Mineral Officer (DMO) Budgam to provide me the DPRs of its contracts in Doodh Ganga and Shali Ganga so that I could see how deep the mining was to be done. He seemed reluctant and when I asked him these were the public documents and the same should be available under section 4 (1) of RTI Act 2005 on their official website, he said the DPRs were available on District website of Budgam www.budgam.nic.in. When I searched, I could not see the same. I then tried to see the Geology & Mining Directorate website www.geologyminingjk.com, unfortunately I could not even see the name of the Director on this website. The cell no 9419067635 available on its Jammu office page belonged to some man from Anantnag. The office landline numbers didn’t work as they were fax numbers. I sent an email to the Director, there was no response. I asked the DMO Budgam why his officials were not seen at mining sites in Panzan or Chadoora? The officer said that he has a dearth of staff. But the report submitted before NGT by government (HUDD) says that Geology and Mining Department has deployed officials around mining blocks to monitor extraction and transportation of minerals ( Reference: page 8 of HUDD report dated: 14.01.2022 signed by Rakesh Kumar, Additional Secretary Housing & Urban Dev Department-HUDD). Why can’t dedicated staff members be kept at mining sites to monitor stone, sand, muck and gravel extraction? Why can’t CCTVs be installed around these sites?
Bulbul Bagh Pump station
A massive pump station has been constructed in Bulbul Bagh area of Barzulla by SMC. The sewerage from big commercial installations shall flow, into the heart of this locality to the Drainage Pumping Station, against the natural gradient as River Dood Ganga flows in the opposite direction. Selection of construction site more judiciously, on the Bulbul Bagh some 200 metres from the current working site towards the Bye-Pass Bridge, would have served as solution to all associated problems. Firstly, the drainage wastes/ effluent from such a site can be directed directly for a dumping into the Flood Channel through an STP. Secondly, the facility at such a location shall be functioning outside the densely populated areas. Thirdly, the associated drainage lines shall be carrying the effluent in the direction of the Natural Gradient and not against it, as is the case/ flaw with the current arrangement at Bulbul Bagh.
Penalty of Rs 3 crores
While imposing the penalty the NGT principal bench said
“We find that neither the dumping of solid waste nor discharge of untreated sewage has been prevented nor illegal mining stopped and legacy waste cleared for which statutory timelines have already expired. 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 utilised for restoration of environment “
Rs 1 crore under three heads means Rs 3 crore in total. The order further said that the amount may be deposited with the District Magistrate, Budgam and spent as per plan approved by the Chief Secretary, consistent with the District Action Plan of the concerned area. The order further reads.
“It will be open to the State to recover the amount from the polluters/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 Pollution Control Board (PCB) in light of judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court inter-alia in Goa Foundation v Union of India & Ors. (2014) 6 SCC 590 and Common Cause Vs. UOI & Ors., (2017) 9 SCC 499. It is also open to the State PCB to initiate prosecution against the violators”
With such a stringent order I am sure the government will act now to control the pollution in Doodh Ganga and also look into the facts; how much loss has been caused to the state exchequer by allowing illegal mining especially as the aftermath of allotment of contracts. I am hopeful SMC will install STPs around Doodh Ganga so that untreated water does not go into Doodh Ganga. The work on all the pump stations be immediately stopped as this would be otherwise considered contempt of court. The solid and liquid waste treatment in rural areas will be taken up under SBM Gramin. MC Chadoora and Budgam also need to start solid liquid waste management work in their respective towns to control pollution in Doodh Ganga and Mamath Kul. The garbage dump site near Mamath Kul also needs to be closed down once for all.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman J&K RTI Movement. He is also Anant Fellow for Climate Action
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.