In a slew of directives National Green Tribunal (NGT) has banned all construction activities within 100 metres of the Ganga River edge, which is observed as serious environmental issue, also prohibited dumping of waste within 500 metres from the river, ordering that every offender will be liable to pay a penalty of Rs 50,000 per default. Most significant of all declaring it (Ganga River bank) as “No-development zones” areas where no construction, including commercial or residential buildings can come up.
NGT took a serious note of the Government spending over Rs 7,000 crore in two years to cleanse the Ganga River which still remains a “serious environmental issue”. The NGT order on July 13, 2017 observed that there are considerable unutilized funds as of today, besides the huge funds that have been made available under the national project as declared by the Prime Minister wherein Rs 20,000 crore have been allocated for the five years commencing 2015-2020.
Even after spending Rs 7,304.64 crore up to March, 2017, by the Central Government, the State Government, and the local authorities of Uttar Pradesh, the status of the Ganga River has not improved in terms of quality or otherwise and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.
A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar directed all concerned authorities to commence the work of setting up of sewage treatment plants and installation of anti-pollution devices within four months and complete it within two years.
Justice Swatanter Kumar also stated that to clean the Ganga River is a solemn duty of both the State/Centre and duty of the citizens as well. This comprehensive obligation under the Constitution is aimed at protecting the environment which in this context obviously would mean cleaning and rejuvenation of river Ganga.
The order stated that all projects referred to in its verdict should be finalized by National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) and said primarily it will be the responsibility of Ministry of Water Resources and NMCG to finalize these projects out of the available funds.
Meanwhile welcoming the order, noted Environmentalist and lawyer MC Mehta, on whose petition the verdict was pronounced, demanded a CBI probe into the spending of over Rs 7,000 crore by the Centre and the State Governments in cleaning the 500 km stretch of the Ganga.
In the case of Meghalaya, with equal passion the public has raised the cry for saving the Wah (river) Umkhrah and Umshyrpi in East Khasi Hills. Some time back in the past, Wah Umkhrah was a crystal clear river passing through picturesque pine city of Shillong, where State’s first Padmashree awardee, Silverine Swer recalls herself as young girl swimming in it, while anglers recall fishing along the bank of the same river. Today the same river is the concern of as many as 19 social and civil organizations along with district administration, Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and Defense authorities; all are putting efforts to sensitize the public for cleaning up the very same river that can be mistaken by any visitors to city as drains.
Union Minister for Water resources, Harish Rawat while accepting the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Rs 42.29 crore for the flood control and beautification of Wah Umkhrah and Wah Umshyrpi submitted by Member of Parliament (MP) Vincent H Pala along with General Administration Department Minister AL Hek on Tuesday, assured the state government that UPA government will take up this project on priority basis. This comes as a sign of relief to the totally chocked river turned drainage system.
Meghalaya has been boasting of the Traditional Institutions, but the high rise building, including the Educational Institutions along the Wah Umkhrah and Wah Umshyrpi, yet another river- turned- drain spot, has narrowed down the rivers in the city, right under the nose of the respective Headmen and District Administration. How does one rectify such senseless attitude towards the environment is every one’s guess. The beautification project should also include the cost for knocking down such encroachment.
Urban Affairs Department, on the other hand, is involved in various litigations with the alleged encroachers along the bank of the river, while the same claims to have been victimized by the authorities and various pressure groups. Let the final judgment come from the Judiciary, hopefully it will be binding too, not just political propaganda for gathering vote on sympathy ground.
Earlier, KHADC had earmarked about One Crores of rupees to clean up Wah Umkhrah within its jurisdiction, which is a welcome sign; but will one time cleaning change the scenario? It is sad to note that the habitats away from the river banks do not find it necessary for them to be part of cleaning programme or awareness, this section of population confidently claims they are not responsible for such menace and blame it on the population dwelling along the river banks. Such blame game has divided the society; now all refuse to see that we are all sitting on a volcano when it comes to dumping all over the city.
The blame game had in fact contributed to chocking of the already shrunk rivers turned drains, yet no one claims to have contributed to such nuisance. Any garbage once out from one own compound is said to be the problem of the district administration. The concept of Wah Umkhrah and Wah Umshyrpi being the property of the government has been furiously abused while neither the public nor the government could prevent it under the present situation. It needs awakening call from the likeminded people who have the will power to prevent further abuse and create awareness for protection of natural resources and conserving our water bodies.
Otherwise, the said project of Rs 42.29 crore will also drown into the same river with no improvement; which would also necessitate an enquiry as to how the amount was spent. Besides, it is time to seek the detailed report of the conglomeration of as many as 18 to 19 associations forming a Task Force for clearing up the said rivers which has just evaporated along with the river flow.