“Unfortunate” is how the National Green Tribunal on Monday termed the lack of complete facts in the replies of Environment Ministry, Uttarakhand government and other authorities concerned regarding the action taken to implement its and the Supreme Court’s orders in wake of the recent floods in the state.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar was displeased with the responses of the ministry, state government and other authorities, including the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Border Roads Organisation (BRO) about how they have gone about implementing the orders of the Tribunal and the apex court.
“It is unfortunate that none of the respondents who have filed their replies is in a position to state complete facts of action taken before the Tribunal. Counsel for Uttarakhand government is not able to state whether the Supreme Court order of August 13, 2013, has been implemented or not. Affidavit is also incomplete in terms of our order of July 2,” the bench said.
It also said the MoEF, Uttarakhand and other authorities have “failed to perform their statutory and constitutional duties” to protect the ecology and the environment of “such a beautiful state of our country.”
The bench, while directing all authorities concerned to expeditiously implement the apex court’s and NGT’s orders, prohibited any construction in the beds and banks of the rivers and their main tributaries flowing in the state.
It also restrained construction in the 100 kilometer stretch of river Bhagirathi which has been declared as a eco-sensitive zone. The restrictions would not operate where renovation and reconstruction of legally constructed buildings and houses are concerned, the bench said.
Any new construction or project covered by the MoEF’s notification shall follow procedure prescribed by the notification, the bench said.
Uttarakhand government was directed by NGT to place a complete and comprehensive list of all illegal construction on the river beds, banks and the eco-sensitive zone.
The Tribunal also directed the state to submit before it what would be the impact of such construction on the ecology and environment of the area and what compensation or damages would be imposed upon those responsible for damaging and degrading the environment.
NGT also directed the MoEF to nominate within one week the monitoring committee it was required to constitute as per the apex court’s orders and to ensure the panel meets in Uttarakhand within one week thereafter.
The monitoring committee is supposed to give clearance to all the constructions, including renovations, that is going to take place in the flood-hit areas of the state.
The Tribunal also directed the authorities to suggest names for a committee to be constituted by NGT for the ecological and environment study of Uttarakhand to be carried out in relation of those subjects which are not within the ambit of apex court’s order.
The bench, meanwhile, directed the Director-General, Border Roads Organisation and Chairman, NHAI, to file personal affidavits stating whether any ecological or environmental study was done before starting any road widening work in the state.
“Affidavit to be filed in one week. If not filed, they will be present before the Tribunal on the next date of hearing,” it said.
The direction was given as the counsel representing BRO was unable to tell the bench whether any study was carried out prior to undertaking road-widening work in the state.
During the proceedings, senior advocate Raj Panjwani, appearing for the NGT Bar Association, said the floods in the state were a result of the indiscriminate and illegal construction in river beds, banks and the eco-sensitive zone and now there is an opportunity to “re-draw” by keeping in mind the checks and balances required to prevent such an incident from recurring.
Uttarakhand government was also directed to specifically inform the bench on the next date of hearing, September 9, about “the steps taken by it for making good the ecological and environmental damage caused due to the calamity.”
It also directed all the authorities concerned to expeditiously implement the apex court’s order and place before the NGT a copy of the report which they are required to file before the Supreme Court.
Giving a week’s time to the authorities, which had not filed a response till today and pleaded they be allowed to do so during the course of the day, the bench noted “it is one of the worst natural disasters in terms of loss of human lives and damage to property. We would have expected all the authorities to bring before us the steps taken with respect to our order of July 2, 2013.”
NGT had on July 2, while issuing show cause notices to the Centre, Uttarakhand government and the other authorities, directed them to give details about the “precautionary and preventive steps” being taken or planned by the respondents, particularly Uttarakhand government, to ensure such ecological and environmental disasters do not reccur.
Describing the recent floods and resultant catastrophe as an “ecological and environmental disaster”, the bench had also directed them to place on record ecological studies that have been carried out there so far, especially by the state.
Keywords: National Green Tribunal, Uttarakhand floods, Environment Ministry, flash floods, landslips, Uttarakhand landslides, Himalayan ecosystem, Char Dham yatra, Uttarakhand rescue, disaster management, Indian Army rescue, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Rudraprayag, Pauri, Himalayan rivers, National Disaster Relief Force