J. Venkatesan

"The right of citizens to clean water cannot be made subservient to any other right."

The Bench said that if the encroachments along the banks of the Yamuna and the drains were not removed, untreated sewage would continue to flow into the river The Bench asked the authorities concerned to adopt a positive and constructive approach to achieve the goal of providing clean water to the Capital's citizens

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has expressed serious concern over denial of clean drinking water to the Capital's citizens and said "the right of citizens to clean water, at least of `C' category, cannot be made subservient to any other right."

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Y. K. Sabharwal and Justice C. K. Thakker observed "it cannot be doubted that if Delhi has to be provided with `C' class water (the minimum criteria considered for water to be fit for drinking) apart from other measures, it is necessary to remove encroachments on the banks of the river Yamuna".

Expressing its anguish on the inaction of the authorities, the Bench said that if the massive encroachments along the banks of the Yamuna and the drains in the Capital were not removed, crores of rupees being spent on the project to clean the Yamuna would go down the drain as untreated sewage would continue to flow into the river.

Referring to the stand of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi that nearly 50,000 encroachments on the Yamuna banks could not be removed without providing alternate accommodation, the Bench pointed out that "most of it has come close to elections on patronage of politicians. Rehabilitation is one thing but it should not deprive the citizens of their rights".

The Bench cited various reports submitted by the Central Pollution Control Board, according to which the quality of water was deteriorating despite the court directions issued from time to time in the past one decade. The Bench asked the authorities concerned to adopt a positive and constructive approach to achieve the goal of providing clean water to the Capital's citizens.

In response to the notice issued last month, MCD Commissioner A. K. Nigam and Delhi Jal Board CEO Arun Mathur were personally present during the hearing of the matter. The Bench expressed its unhappiness over the sketchy affidavit filed by the Jal Board without giving any details on the proposed action plan. It asked the Board to file a better affidavit in two weeks. It noted that despite repeated assurances in affidavits filed in the last five years, nothing concrete had happened.

In its affidavit the Centre had cited lack of monitoring and review as the reasons for the delay in implementation of the Action Plan and suggested a three-pronged monitoring mechanism to ensure completion within the time schedule. It suggested setting up of sewage treatment plants on the banks of the Yamuna on the lines of the Thames in London to ensure discharge of clean water into the river.

The Bench referred to this affidavit and said the attitude of the civic authorities was coming in the way of implementation of this action plan. The Judges asked the authorities to apprise them of the plan to set up sewage treatment plants at the points where all major drains meet the Yamuna to ensure that no untreated sewage or industrial effluent get discharged into the river. The matter would be taken up for further hearing after three weeks.

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