The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday warned that the tanneries at Jajmau near the Ganga in Uttar Pradesh would be shut down and relocated if the tribunal’s directions to rejuvenate the river are not strictly followed. It also called for a complete moratorium on construction activity within 100 metres from the edge of the river till the demarcation of floodplains, and a ban on dumping within 500 metres of the river. Violation of any kind — dumping waste in the river or its banks, discharge of effluents from outlet, discharging spent chrome liquor — will invite environmental compensation of Rs 50,000 for each breach, the tribunal said.
A bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar elaborated on a slew of measures to rejuvenate the Ganga, between Haridwar and Unnao, in a 543-page judgment that was pronounced on Thursday. “There are considerable unutilised 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,” the judgment read. “Even after spending Rs 7,304.64 crore up to March 2017, by the Central Government, State Government and local authorities of the State of UP, the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality or otherwise and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.”
The NGT directed authorities to submit a project action plan within six weeks, failing which the UP government would be “duty bound” to close the tannery industry and shift it to a new industrial site that has provisions for a common effluent treatment plant and common chromium recovery plant.
The tribunal noted that if the offence is related to chrome in the case of industries processing 30 or less hides per day, they would be liable to pay an environmental compensation of Rs 25,000 per breach; industry entitled to process more than 30 but less than 100 hides per day would be liable to pay Rs 50,000; and those processing more than 100 hides per day would pay Rs 1,00,000 per breach.
Petitioner and lawyer M C Mehta called it a “landmark judgment”. He called for a CBI probe into the spending of over Rs 7,000 crore by the Centre and state governments. In its order, the tribunal also directed authorities to commence work on setting up a sewage treatment plant and installation of anti-pollution devices within four months and complete the work within two years. It directed the UP and Uttarakhand governments to formulate guidelines for religious activities on the ghats during festivals.
On maintaining the flow of the river, it said the minimum environment flow should not fall “below 20 per cent of the average monthly lean season flow”. It also prohibited disposal of municipal solid waste, e-waste and bio-medical waste on the floodplains. The NGT said all projects referred to in its verdict should be finalised by the National Mission for Clean Ganga and it would be the responsibility of the Ministry of Water Resources and NMCG to finalise the projects out of the available funds.