Erring officers not penalised. Illegal mining still a challenge
Finally, the Government of Jammu & Kashmir has agreed to provide more than Rs 140 crores for treatment of waste water that enters into Doodh Ganga between Chadoora town to Tengpora. This downstream stretch of Doodh Ganga (around 13 kms long) has a huge population residing on its banks and all the liquid that comes out from residential and commercial establishments enters into Doodh Ganga. Ironically the untreated waste water is being pumped by several pump stations set up between Bagh-e-Mehtab, Chanapora to Tengpora via Barzulla Bulbul Bagh as well.
For information of readers, in March this year the National Green Tribunal (NGT) after taking cognisance of my petition slashed a penalty of Rs 3 crore on the erring officers of the J&K Government and polluters for not taking steps to control pollution and illegal mining in Doodh Ganga and Mamath Kul in Budgam.The petition titled ‘Raja Muzaffar Bhat v/s Government of J&K was listed before the Principal Bench of NGT on Tuesday March 8th 2022. The NGT order said that the State be held liable to pay an interim compensation of Rs 1 crore each under all the three heads (solid waste, liquid waste, and Illegal mining) which is to be deposited in a separate account of Deputy Commissioner Budgam to be utilised for the restoration of the environment. The money was later on said to have been deposited into the said account by SMC & Director Urban Local Bodies Kashmir & Director Geology & Mining Department. Some part of the money was recovered from some polluters by SMC but nothing has been recovered from erring officers as per my information.
The bench headed by Justice A K Goel in its March 8th 2022 order said; “The violations found include 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.”
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. It will be open to the State to recover the amount from the polluters and erring officers under the law”
The order further reads :
“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 in light of judgment of the Supreme Court inter-alia in Goa Foundation versus Union of India and others (2014) 6 SCC 590 and Common Cause versus Union of India and others (2017) 9 SCC 499. It is also open to the State PCB to initiate prosecution against the violators".
It is unclear whether JKPCB now called Pollution Control Committee (PCC) has initiated prosecution against violators (Project Proponents, Geology & Mining Department, Flood Control Department etc) or not? As per my information PCB is still a mute spectator and has not taken action against the people involved in illegal mining in spite of having a clear order from the NGT. This issue would be taken up before the NGT during the next date of hearing.
Background of the case
On the direction of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) the 5- member committee was constituted to identify the factors that were causing water pollution in Doodh Ganga from Chadoora to Tengpora via Bagh e Mahtab, Chanapora and Barzulla. The committee was asked to submit a factual report regarding the measures being taken for cleaning the Doodh Ganga. The committee constituted by NGT, comprised of Deputy Commissioners of Srinagar and Budgam, Director Urban Local Bodies and Regional Director, Pollution Control Committee Kashmir. This joint committee undertook a visit to the Barzulla area to assess the water quality, quantity of sewage being discharged, solid waste being dumped on the banks of Doodh Ganga river and to review the measures being taken for its cleanliness besides identification of the factors contributing to pollution of this waterbody. The inspection was carried in pursuance to the directions of NGT and suggesting remedial action for preventing discharge of sewage and dumping of solid waste on the banks of Doodh Ganga and Mamath Kull.
Recommendations of the Committee
The Joint Committee constituted on the orders of National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the officers of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), J&K Urban Environment & Engineering Department (UEED), Irrigation and Flood Control Department and Directorate of ULB Kashmir to ensure cleaning and maintenance of the banks of Doodh Ganga and Mamth kull which is the source of irrigation as well as drinking water for more than half a million population of Srinagar and some areas of Budgam district as well.
The Committee also stressed upon the concerned field functionaries to sensitise people living near the banks of the Doodh Ganga about the fragility of the environment and ill effects of polluting it, besides declaring the banks of the Nallah Dhoodh Ganga and the adjoining areas as ‘No Litter Zone’.
The committee also asked Municipal Committee Chadoora to clear legacy waste and prevent any further dumping of waste on the Banks of water body.
The Committee also discussed the need of a comprehensive action plan including establishment of Sewerage Treatment Plants (STPs) of adequate capacity to prevent direct discharge of untreated Sewage into Doodh Ganga.
The Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) made a detailed project report (DPR) to install STPs based on a suitable technology for the areas under its jurisdiction i.e., from Bagh-e Mehtab to Tengpora. The UEED made the DPR for rural area located between Bagh e Mehtab and Sogam via Chadoora town (up stream)
Adherence to NGTs order
The Housing and Urban Development Department (HUDD) J&K Government has been very much serious about pollution in Doodh Ganga. The Principal Secretary HUDD Mr Dheeraj Gupta and Chief Engineer UEED J&K Mr Naseer Kakroo personally informed me that Govt has sanctioned Rs 149 crores for setting up STP around Doodh Ganga between Sogam Chadoora to Tengpora Bypass via Bagh e Mehtab, Chanapora, Barzulla. The setting up of Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) is part of the comprehensive action plan to prevent direct discharge of untreated sewage into the Doodh Ganga tributary. Recently the Chief Engineer UEED Mr Kakroo & the Govt consultant Mehraj Bhat gave a Power Point presentation in his office to a civil society delegation from Chadoora area. I was also present during the presentation. The project has been divided into two parts. The estimated cost of setting up STP from Chadura to Bagh e Mehtab is Rs 84.34 crores. Similarly, the estimated project cost from Baghe Mehtab to Tengpora is Rs. 59.14 crores which amounts to Rs 149 crores.
When it comes to clearing the solid waste being dumped on the banks of Doodh Ganga between Bagh e Mehtab to Chadoora town via Mochwa, Kralpora, Gopalpora, Wathoora, Hanjigund, the same is not cleared as these areas are rural habitations but have been urbanised. The Assistant Commissioner Panchayats Budgam has to be serious about it, and she must utilise the money available under SBM Gramin for solid liquid waste management. The suggestions made by the joint committee to declare Doodh Ganga as no litter zone is also not being adhered to.
The residents living on the banks of Doodh Ganga have not been sensitised by the Govt through regular Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities. The banks of Doodh Ganga that fall under SMC (Bagh e Mehtab to Tengpora) need to be cleaned on a daily basis.
The waste collection point under the Chanapora Bypass bridge should be cleared and instead more vehicles be provided in the area to collect waste from every household in a segregated manner. In Chadoora town the local municipality is clearing the solid waste from its banks on a regular basis but some vehicles need to be provided to the municipality so that all waste can be collected from every ward, every mohalla and every commercial establishment of the town.
I was excited when Principal Secretary Housing & Urban Development Department (HUDD) J&K Govt personally informed me on phone that Rs 149 crores were sanctioned for setting up the STPs on Doodh Ganga. I hope some qualified agency should be given the contract and the best STP technology should be used. I would suggest NGT to monitor the construction of these STPs so that substandard material, or equipment, is not used in this project. The penalty money of Rs 3 crores were to be recovered from erring Govt officials and polluters. As per my information not a single erring Govt officer has been penalised and instead the penalty money of Rs 3 crores was paid from public exchequer. SMC has collected some amount from polluters but those officials who have been responsible for messing up Doodh Ganga should be penalised as well. The Rural Sanitation Department and Geology & Mining Departments are two such erring public authorities whose officers should be penalised for failing to perform their duties.