The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation (UMC) to deposit Rs 15 crore and the Kulgaon-Badlapur and Ambernath municipal councils to deposit Rs 5 crore each with the divisional commissioner within six weeks for the restoration of the Waldhuni and Ulhas rivers.
The bench, comprising Justice V R Kingaonkar and expert member Ajay Deshpande, was hearing an application by NGO Vanashakti, which alleged that industries were severely polluting the Ulhas river and sought the clean-up of the river.
“Industrial units are responsible for causing great environmental pollution of different water bodies including Ulhas river, the estuary and Waldhuni river, even the groundwater in and around the area of these industrial areas. Considering such magnitude of the pollution caused by the industrial units, its capacity and prosperity, responsibility of the units to pay compensation cannot be disputed on any plausible cause or ground,” said the Pune bench of the NGT. The chief secretary has also been directed to ensure that the four adjoining urban bodies provide the required Sewage Treatment Plant capacity in a phased manner within 24 months.
The bench came down heavily on the pollution control boards’ inaction in the area, which was declared a critically polluted area back in 2009.
“Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has failed to ensure that the MIDC provides the necessary effluent disposal system in a time bound manner. We are,therefore, at pains to note the action or rather inaction of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as well as MPCB to prevent and control the water pollution in the industrial area, in spite of being notified as critically polluted area. MPCB and CPCB are aware that the Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETP) are not functioning properly, we do not find any effective intervention by MPCB or even by CPCB to regulate such polluting discharges,” the order stated.
A committee under the divisional commissioner has been directed to adopt suitable experts for planning and implementation of restitution and restoration works on the rivers. Within the next 18 months, the divisional commissioner has been directed to ensure the cleanup and ensure beautification of the river banks to protect them from any unauthorised dumping of wastes and effluents, the order stated.
NGO Vanashakti had filed an appeal before the NGT to restore the Ulhas river, which was seeing discharge of untreated effluents from MIDC industrial estates, alleging that the pollution seriously affects the health of people in Ambernath, Badlapur, Ulhasnagar, Kalyan-Dombivli.
Further, the tribunal has directed the Dombivli CETP to pay Rs 30 crore, based on the excessive Chemical Oxygen Demand load released into the water environment, and the Ambernath CETP to pay Rs 15 crore as restoration and restitution costs.
The order has brought an end to the NGO’s two-year long fight to get authorities to clean up the river. “Economic growth at the cost of free and pure drinking water is not progress. For over four decades the perennial river Ulhas was abused and polluted. People fell sick in large numbers, marine life was destroyed, yet the government chose to look the other way. We were threatened, induced , abused yet we persisted and have managed to get legal protection to this water source. Merely worshiping rivers on sacred days is not enough. We need to ensure that they are kept pollution free for generations to come,” said D Stalin, project director, NGO Vanashakti.