May 30, 2021 12:50:06 am
The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Delhi in its order dated May 25 directed the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) and other state government authorities to prepare a plan of “demarcation of the entire flood plain zone of Vishwamitri river” as well as “plantation and maintaining the integrity of the river in totality”, which would include removal of all unauthorised structures, as per the river restoration plan.
In its order, the NGT has observed that the river consists of catchments, floodplains, tributaries, ponds, river-bed and adjoining ravines which, along with the soils and vegetation on both sides, is the river’s natural mechanism to retain the additional water, prevent floods and provide habitat for various species.
The Vishwamitri River Action Plan should include demarcating, protecting, and restoring the river, and maintaining minimum environment flow in a time-bound manner.
The order also states, “Of paramount importance in its ecology is the presence of the highly protected species, the Indian crocodile (Crocodylus palustries- Mugger Crocodile) and turtles.
The crocodiles, turtles, and other species have been breeding in stretches of the Vishwamitri River for many years.
This species is categorised as nationally ‘vulnerable’, subsequent to an assessment following IUCN criteria for threatened species (Molur and Walker 1998), and has the highest legal protection in India. It is listed in Schedule I to the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972…”
The tribunal, in a previous order dated May 25, 2016, had restrained the VMC from proceeding with the development activities within the area of the Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP) — the main contention of the applicants was that the VMC had not sought environmental clearance or planned a wholesome ecological restoration of the river while planning a riverfront.
“Admittedly, the project in question against which the applicant had the grievance has been given up…,” the court observed, agreeing that the VMC must restore the status quo ante (the previous state) of the river.
The NGT has observed that the Vishwamitri River in Vadodara is among the 351 polluted river stretches identified by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), and the restoration of such stretches has also been “exhaustively considered” by the Tribunal in another hearing of a petition by the same applicants.
The NGT, has, therefore, directed that a River Rejuvenation Committee be constituted in each state and union territory to prepare and execute an action plan for restoration of each of such polluted stretches to give effect to the rule of law in a time-bound manner.
“Such action plans have been prepared and approved by the CPCB and their execution is to be overseen by the Chief Secretary in the state and Central Monitoring Committee headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Jalshakti at the national level. The action plan is to address the issues relating to demarcation, protection of flood plain zone, and maintaining minimum environment flow…,” the order says, in addition to directing demarcation and removal of obstruction and unauthorized structures.
The NGT order also mentions VMC’s response in incidents of encroachments and violation of the norms, pointed out by the applicants.
It states, “The stand of the VMC is that the (Vishwamitri Riverfront) project has not yet been finalised. It was only at the conceptual stage. The project was to beautify and rejuvenate the river for the benefit of the general public. It will increase the flood-carrying capacity, clean the river and protect the habitat of the wildlife. It will be integrated with the development of the city without any damage to the environment. A consultant was hired for preparing the feasibility report. Based on the report, a consultant was hired for the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report. Thereafter, an EIA application was made to the SEIAA, Gujarat. However, later, a decision was taken to withdraw the application, before any activity was undertaken. Representation of the applicant was considered about the construction activity around the Vishwamitri River, unrelated to the project. Construction of bridge from Sama to Harni was necessary for connectivity of the two areas to reduce travel time. The said matter was pending before the Gujarat High Court and acquisition stayed.”
The VMC has also told the NGT that the construction of the controversial retaining wall along in the housing project of the Sanjay Nagar Slum Rehabilitation Project at Mangal Pandey Road was in pursuance of a notification dated for the development of the slum area which was upheld by the Gujarat High Court and later by the Supreme Court, the VMC has said.
The civic body has also contended that the retaining wall at the Sama-Savli road on the edge of Sama Talav was part of the ‘conservation process’ to beautify the pond.
The VMC has also denied allegations of leveling land for construction projects near Narhari Hospital, construction work near Bhimnath Bridge and filling of Bhimnath Talav, dumping of debris, and discharge of untreated sewage in the river.
Rohit Prajapati of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, the applicant in the case, said, “The need to implement the Vishwamitri River Action Plan has increased. We, the concerned citizens and experts, as a team are willing to work collaboratively with the concerned authorities toward the implementation, in letter and spirit…”
VMC Commissioner P Swaroop said that the civic body has invited tenders in April to select a consultant to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the Vishwamitri Rejuvenation Project, which was announced by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in December 2019, following the floods witnessed by Vadodara in July and August that year.
Swaroop told The Indian Express, “The court has asked us to make the Vishwamitri Rejuvenation Plan. We have invited tenders for consultants to prepare DPR. We have consulted the Gujarat pollution control Board (GPCB) and other stakeholders to ensure that the plan for flood mitigation will include the measures that can be taken to remove all the obstructions in the flow of the river and execute a complete rejuvenation of the river.”
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