An armed Ganga Protection Corps (GPC) whose personnel will have powers to arrest those who pollute the river; treating a slew of actions — from obstructing the flow to commercial fishing — as cognizable offences that may attract a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.
These are among the measures in the draft Bill prepared by the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation which has sought opinion of various stakeholders.
The draft, accessed by The Indian Express, says that present environmental laws aren’t adequate to restore and protect the river. The Bill calls for a National Ganga Council and a National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority to enforce the law and protect the river which flows over 2500 km.
Cognizable offences marked in the draft Bill include: construction activities causing obstruction in the river; withdrawal of ground water for industrial or commercial consumption from the land fronting the river and its tributaries; commercial fishing or aqua culture in the river and its tributaries; discharging untreated or treated sewage into the river.
Sources said a Cabinet note has been circulated to Secretaries of departments concerned and their comments are coming in.
The draft Bill envisages the Ganga Protection Corps as an armed force “constituted and maintained” by the Central government. “If any member of GPC has reason to believe that any person has committed an offence punishable under this Act, he may take such person in custody to the nearest police station.” GPC will follow Code of Criminal Procedure.
Its personnel, the draft Bill says, will be provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs and will be deployed by National Ganga Rejuvenation Authority. While almost similar provisions are there in the Environment Protection Act 1986, creation of GPC is new.
The draft Bill says that commercial fishing or aqua culture activities in the Ganga and any of its tributaries shall be punishable with imprisonment for two years or a fine of Rs 2 lakh or both. Similarly, construction of permanent structure for residential, commercial and residential purposes in the active flood plain area of Ganga will be punishable with a two-year imprisonment or fine up to Rs 50 lakh or both.
The draft makes it clear that no person or municipal authority will establish or take any steps to set up any industrial or residential or commercial premises or structure which may result in discharge of any sewage or trade effluent into the Ganga, otherwise he may face a five-year prison term or a fine of Rs 50,000 per day or both.
In July 2016, a committee was constituted under retired judge of the Allahabad High Court Justice Girdhar Malviya who had submitted a draft Bill last year named The National River Ganga (Rejuvenation, Protection and Management) Bill, 2017. Subsequently, a four-member committee was set up by the Ministry to examine that and the Ministry has circulated a Cabinet note which includes a revised version of that draft Bill.
Incidentally, as judge of Allahabad High Court, Justice Malviya, in 1998, had called for a “River Police” to protect the Ganga.