For long, Delhi businessman V.K. Jain has filed PILs on a slew of issues for the public good. This includes his long battle to save the water bodies in and around Delhi
Money can’t grant you everything. Well, when nobody wants to take this line at face value anymore, there is this Delhi businessman, Vinod Kumar Jain, who says his urge to fight for the city’s environment stems from the thought that he has earned enough money, and “it is time to give something back to society.” A successful exporter of fashion jewellery and accessories, Jain surely felt, “money can’t grant you everything.” At his farmhouse in Mehrauli that enfolds several acres, Jain elaborates on his thoughts which led to a slew of landmark court judgments — like the one against the use of polythene bags in Delhi and or the selling of junk food in city school canteens. So also the order to set up for setting up permanent lok adalats and theft courts to deal with pilfering of power. The list also includes the Delhi High Court directions to the city Government to restore hundreds of water bodies in and around Delhi, to promote recycling of waste water, and to practise rainwater harvesting in flyovers and city roads. Jain relates, “When I decided to do something for society, I thought of choosing to work for a better environment for the city that we live in. I thought my work would be of no significance unless I try and get some laws passed. So in 1996, I started my NGO Tapas.”
As he “could afford good lawyers, the legal costs,” he was obviously in a good condition to file PILs and follow up on the cases.
Jain first took up the issue of curbing Delhi’s air pollution. “Newspapers were full of stories then, quoting various study reports on Delhi’s rising air pollution. I filed a petition in the Delhi High Court pleading to direct the Delhi Government authorities to curb it,” he recalls. The HC forwarded his petition to the Supreme Court since the highest court was hearing a case related to air pollution.
It enthused him nevertheless, prodding him to file more PILs — to stop theft of electricity, to make available safe drinking water, to augment water resources. The last of the pleas eventually led the HC to form a committee headed by the Delhi Chief Secretary to restore 629 water bodies and take measures to recycle waste water. “Then in 2004, I filed another petition; it was to promote rainwater harvesting in the flyovers and Delhi roads,” he adds.
The drive to restore the water bodies was a long battle, says Jain. “The HC made various committees to make a list of water bodies based on land revenue records. The one led by the Municipal Commissioner came up with a list of only 177 water bodies. I told the court it can’t be true: a few years ago, the official count was 355. I took pictures of many of them and showed them to the court. The court got concerned, set up a survey committee, involved (the NGO) INTACH too, which came up with a list of 508. I then informed the court that the areas demarcated by the committee were not right.”
The court asked Jain if he could do a survey. “I formed a team on my own, sent people to every village in and around Delhi. They talked to old people, rummaged through land revenue records. We then came up with a list of close to 800 water bodies. The court said, let the Government first work on 629 of them and then it will be on the Chief Secretary to take up the rest,” relates Jain.
Some of the water bodies, he rues, couldn’t be saved. “Mostly because of encroachments by religious bodies. Then in some cases, the Government itself had given them away to construct schools, community centres, hospitals, etc.”
He mentions Neela Hauz in Vasant Kunj. “Water was being drained out of the lake to build a road. I took a stay order from the HC in 2002. The court asked the authorities to save it by making a bridge over it.” Around the same time, he took a stay order from the HC on the Jahangirpuri marshes too. “Fly ash was being unloaded on it.”
Though the committee formed by the HC should meet every six months, there is no sign of meeting. “I have been writing to them. Maybe I will file an RTI application to know the progress of the work,” he says.
The Right to Information Act (RTI), Jain vouches, has helped him immensely. “Much information which Delhi Government officials would not give me easily was possible to get only through RTI,” he says, laughing that now “whenever an officer sees an RTI application filed by me, they quickly reply, thinking, or else I will file another PIL.”
On a serious note, Jain highlights an important point. “The Government thinking is skewed; it thinks a water body is restored by making just a park around it, concretising its boundary walls. They don’t think about making the water quality better.” No wonder then, the Hauz Khas lake was filled with sewage water that had a biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of 30 when it should have been 4-5 BOD.
“That water is not fit for bathing,” warns Jain.
This swings the conversation to his PIL on the Yamuna. Last year, the HC slammed the civic authorities for failure to construct special permanent enclosures on the riverbank for immersion of idols during festivals. Jain had told the court that despite its 2006 order and the MCD’s undertaking to it in 2009 for the construction of 13 permanent enclosures, only four temporary enclosures have come up so far. “The case is up for hearing on March 8,” he says. He has also filed an application, in the Supreme Court, against the Delhi Jal Board’s plan to use interceptors to clean sewage water and discharge it into the river. Jain’s line is clear here. “Even after treating the water, it would not be safe for people to bathe in it.”
He sounds frustrated, “It is not that they can’t do it, but they don’t care. I was told by some officials, let’s agree to bring the level to 10 BOD, knowing very well that 4-5 BOD is what it should be. They say such things after spending 5-600 crores of public money.” What is also frustrating is, “sometimes, it can take a lot of time in the Court for a judgment to come through. Nobody from the Government would reply, no Government representative will show up at the court; they would delay the process as much as possible.”
So what keeps him going? “One success inspires me to aim for another.”
“There is no water in Qutub ki baoli and Agrasen ki baoli (photo at right) because there are buildings around them. It is not that water can’t be generated in them. There was a plan to promote rainwater harvesting on the rooftops of the buildings around Agrasen ki baoli but nothing has happened.”