THE NAGPUR bench of the Bombay High Court has directed civic authorities in Buldhana district to strictly ensure that sewage is not released into the meteor lake of Lonar is stopped within three days, or else face contempt proceedings.
In a 14-page order on a PIL filed by Kirti Nipankar, the bench, comprising Justice Sunil Shukre and Justice Anil Killor, also passed severe strictures against Buldhana Collector Suman Chandra for “showing “indifference by not attending crucial hearings”.
A team of lawyers representing various parties in the PIL visited Lonar on June 17 as per the court’s direction and submitted an “inspection report” to the court. “The situation at and around Lonar lake is really pathetic, mainly because of the callous indifference of many of the authorities responsible for the conservation of Lonar lake,” the bench observed, citing the findings of the inspection report.
“The primary responsibility, in this regard, is on the shoulder of collector, Buldhana, followed by the chief officer (CO), municipal council (MC), Lonar, and PWD (public works department) officials. The only department taking the whole matter seriously and also making efforts to comply with various directions issued by this court from time to time is the forest department, which had almost been alienated by other authorities, resulting in the pathetic situation,” the bench further observed.
Petitioners’ lawyer Anand Parchure said the two issues of immediate concern were open defecation and the sewage discharge of the entire city into the lake. Gauri Venkatraman, lawyer from National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), said a new proposal to revamp the STP and increase its capacity had already been submitted to the Lonar MC in November 2019. The MC submitted that necessary action had been taken in this regard.
“Details of the action, however, haven’t been placed on record. We would direct the CO to submit the same on or before the next hearing on June 22,” the bench directed.
The court then directed the Lonar MC to “immediately stop the free flow of sewage water from Lonar to the lake”.
The court then rapped the Buldana collector, stating, “On June 15, we had issued several directions to collector, Buldana, PWD, Buldana, and Lonar MC to submit their reports on affidavits but none has complied so far… The collector was directed to take immediate steps to protect ejecta blanket (material spread around the lake after meteor impact that created the lake) of the crater against theft and pilferage and submit report. No report has been submitted…”
“The time has come for this court to take serious cognizance of the failures of officers. A grievance was expressed regarding indifference shown by the collector, evident from repeated absence at crucial hearings and also at the time of inspection visit by the court on February 22, and by lawyers on June 17. We can understand that on June 17, she was busy with management of new corona hotspot in Buldhana but hasn’t offered any satisfactory explanation about absence on previous occasion. Even today, she could have taken part in the hearing through videoconferencing…,” the bench said.
In its final directions, the court ordered all concerned officers and heads of departments to be remain present through video conference on the next hearing, and to submit reports/replies ensuring compliance of various directions from time to time. The court also warned against deliberate absence and/or breach of court’s directions.
The bench directed the forest department to fill up posts of range forest officer and assistant conservator of forest at Lonar, and granted more time to NEERI, Geological Survey of India, and Agarkar Institute, Pune, to submit their reports on issues like the water in the meteor lake turning pink.
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