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Pollution of the Sabarmati river Gujarat HC slams ‘namesake’ GPCB, seeks STPs action plan

The court, however, came down heavily on GPCB, noting its role in pushing the state towards a health hazard by failing in its statutory duties.

By: Express News Service | Ahmedabad |
Updated: December 7, 2021 2:27:06 am
It also did not miss to observe the laxity of AMC and sought an explanation as to why no action was taken against erring companies to date.

A division bench of the Gujarat High Court directed the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to chalk out an action plan in consultation with the state government with respect to optimal functioning of sewage treatment plants (STPs) at the earliest.

It also sought to know from the Ahmedabad municipal commissioner as to what the corporation “intends to do to overhaul and recharge all the STPs” and ensure that these start functioning at their optimal levels. Noting that every delay is “proving to be hazardous”, the court further directed AMC and GPCB to continue with the drive to disconnect all the illegal and unauthorised industrial connections into the sewerage. It also asked the two bodies “to immediately abide by the suggestions made by the Joint Task Force.”

The court, however, came down heavily on GPCB, noting its role in pushing the state towards a health hazard by failing in its statutory duties. The division bench of Justices JB Pardiwala and VD Nanavati slammed GPCB, noting its failure in discharging its statutory duties and holding it “wholly responsible for bringing around this kind of alarming situation.”

The common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) are run and managed by private companies. “It is very unfortunate that the GPCB never paid attention so far to the dismal and absolute poor functioning of the CETPs. It was the statutory duty of the GPCB to take action at an appropriate time, more particularly, when it realised that the CETPs are hardly treating the industrial effluents. It could be said the GPCB is just for namesake,” the order noted.

The direction comes even as at least five industrial units moved the court seeking relief after their effluent discharge connections were disconnected following their failure to adhere to prescribed limits. AMC has disconnected a total of 303 illegal and unauthorised industrial connections, including 40 on Monday, of the nearly 500 such connections identified by the civic body.

The court has also sought the appearance of Advocate General Kamal Trivedi on behalf of the state and has implored cooperation from Municipal Commissioner Mukesh Kumar and Chief Secretary Pankaj Kumar.

The order, dated December 3 and which was made public Monday, notes that when it comes to the functionality of the 14 STPs managed by AMC and seven CETPs run and managed by private companies, all parties admitted that of the 14 STPs, “only three are functioning to a certain extent in a reasonable manner”, while of the seven CETPs, “only one is functioning to some extent in a reasonable manner.”

“The counsels made an honest confession before this court that the sewage at all the STPs is treated below 30 per cent of the optimal level and such untreated sewage is directly discharged into the Sabarmati river. The same is the case with industrial effluents containing toxic substances like lead, mercury, chloride, etc. Unfortunately, this polluted water of the Sabarmati river is being used for the purpose of irrigation. If this water contains a high quantity of poisonous elements like lead, mercury, etc, and is treated for the purpose of irrigation, then what quality of crops and vegetables can we expect? It is virtually poison that the people are consuming,” the bench sounded alarmed.

It also did not miss to observe the laxity of AMC and sought an explanation as to why no action was taken against erring companies to date. “We are informed that AMC has obtained bank guarantees from the companies running the CETPs. We wonder why these bank guarantees have not been encashed in view of the fact that the CETPs are not functioning at all,” the court said. It asked the state government, GPCB and AMC to submit an action plan on what they “propose to do for the repairs and overhauling of all the seven CETPs.”

The court also permitted the seven CETPs to be made parties to the litigation and issued notices, returnable on December 10. It sought a report from GPCB on the steps it has taken to ensure that the seven CETPs were functioning in accordance with the rules and regulations and at optimal levels.

Meanwhile, highlighting the continuing pollution of the Sabarmati river, amicus curiae Hemang Shah, in his report, submitted before the court that the authorities ought to give priority to prevent further river pollution, “instead of undertaking Riverfront Phase-II extension”. “The tax-payer’s money should be utilised for ensuring the setting up of STPs and CETPs,” he said.

Shah’s report also cited the setting up of a Rs 500-crore sports complex on the banks of Sabarmati, with an objective to host Olympics in 2036 as well as 2040 as part of a multi-city event.

Taking cognisance of the report, the bench, too, agreed to the proposition and noted in its order that the state government and AMC should prioritise improving the health of the river, rather than going for a big project in the form of the second phase of the Sabarmati Riverfront. “If the government wants to go for this project, then this court would never come in its way as it is a policy matter. However, if crores of rupees are to be spent on this new project, then some amount should be earmarked or reserved for the repairs or overhauling of the STPs. We want the Ahmedabad Municipal Commissioner, in consultation with the state government, to place before us an appropriate action plan in this regard. Any delay or laxity shall not be condoned by this court in the larger public interest,” the court noted.

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