THE Delhi bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has slapped a fine of Rs 15 lakh on the Lonavala Municipal Council (LMC), the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), the executive engineer of the state Irrigation Department and the Maval tehsildar for failing to submit a report about a building on the banks of Indrayani river, allegedly constructed in violation of environmental norms.
The appeal for demolition of the building — located in Bhushi village in Lonavala — was filed by RTI activists Suresh Pujari and Ashish Shinde. The building was allegedly constructed by a resident of Lonavala after dumping debris on the banks of the river. The activists had approached the Delhi bench of the NGT as the Pune bench has been largely non-functional from 2018.
The applicants had alleged that the building was constructed by blocking the natural course of Indrayani river. “Survey no. 24, where the illegal building has come up, has Indrayani river on the east, north and west side of the property, whereas there is natural flow of river from the said property. There is encroachment of the river by illegal earth-filling in Indrayani river and changing its natural flow,” Pujari and Shinde stated in the application.
According to the applicants, they had given evidence showing that about 10 gunthas of the river were encroachment on.
The NGT, in its first order issued in January 2019, constituted a joint committee to survey and demarcate the area.
The panel had members of MPCB, Irrigation department, the executive engineer of LMC and the Maval tehsildar. The nodal agency was the Lonavala Municipal Council. While constituting the committee, the
NGT noted that the municipal council had already held the construction to be illegal and unauthorised.
The committee was asked to ascertain whether dumping of soil and debris has been done in areas beyond the resident’s legitimate holdings, and whether dumping of soil and debris violated civic rules. The committee was asked to file its report within a month, but it failed to do so.
The NGT, in May, imposed a fine of Rs 5 lakh on the nodal officer of the committee, who is also the CEO of LMC. The committee was again asked to file a report within a month, but it failed to do so.
Pointing out the delay by the committee, the Tribunal stated, “The committee failed to file a report even two months after the first order… three months later, the committee again failed to file the report. It appears that the committee has not been serious in complying with the orders of the tribunal. LMC counsel has submitted that the delay has been on account of the want of a survey report from the Irrigation department. In our view, the responsibility of the committee is collective and all those involved would be liable for adverse action for non-compliance. We accordingly direct payment of Rs 15 lakh, to be divided equally, among all members of the committee”.
A review petition, seeking waiver of the fine amount, has also been quashed by the NGT. “We have filed an appeal for quashing of the fine amount,” said Sachin Pawar, the nodal officer and CEO of LMC.
Warning the committee members, the NGT said appropriate coercive orders will be passed, which may entail attachment of salaries of those responsible and other measures, unless the report was not filed in a month. The next hearing in the case is on January 30.
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