Interview | Swatanter Kumar Delhi

‘If govt closes its eyes and follows judgments passed, the Yamuna will be clean’

The NGT has lived up to its mandate of enforcing environmental protection laws, says former NGT chairperson Swatanter Kumar. People are more aware of the environment and their mindset is changing, he tells The Hindu

Has the NGT lived up to its objective of ‘expeditious disposals’?

We tried our best to dispose of cases within a year of their institution. If I am not mistaken, 82% of the cases were disposed of within one year of their institution. I think the aim of expeditious disposal as it was said under the [NGT] Act was achieved.

Has the NGT been able to live up to its mandate of enforcing environmental protection laws?

Environmental laws pertaining to the air, water, biodiversity and other Acts have been enforced. There is no doubt about it. There have been stringent orders in various cases, be it the Yamuna, brick kilns or industries.

If you see the development of environmental jurisprudence by the NGT in the past few years, you will see that it is growing, both vertically and horizontally. By vertically, I mean the legal principles and by horizontally I mean the practical aspects. Of course, execution of the orders is a problem all over the world and is not unique to our country.

But there are cases where despite the Bench having passed orders three years back, they have still not been complied with. How is the NGT effective then?

The orders passed by the NGT are like the orders of a civil court. So they have to be executed like the orders of a civil court. The point is that when you want to get it enforced, people do enforce orders. Like I said, implementation and enforcement of tribunal or court orders is a universal issue and not confined to the NGT.

However, I feel there is a change in the mindset today. People do think and talk about the environment. For example, we had passed directions to take precautions during constructions. Now whenever one notices non-compliance with orders, they object and complain. People are becoming aware of the environment.

Is it enough to levy a fine after the damage has been done? Does the ‘polluter pays’ principle actually act as deterrent?

The ‘polluter pays’ principle is a very strong one and a part of the statute in India. It definitely helps as deterrent. For example, people throwing muck into the Yamuna, were fined ₹5,000. Properties of defaulters were seized... At least now people have stopped throwing muck into the Yamuna. The river is not clean but steps are being taken and you cannot say that they are not being applied.

The issue of severe pollution is due to problems arising from multiple factors. For instance, you cannot pin-point one source for air pollution. There are multiple causes involved like construction activities, brick kilns, crop burning and vehicular pollution. So you have to control all the sources and for that the society should work as a whole. The government, litigant and regulator should work and people should discharge their responsibilities.

But what about events like the World Culture Festivals where the Yamuna floodplain was severely damaged.

By the time people came to the NGT, the damage was already done. Everything [for the event] was ready by then. Only the function remained. The maximum it would do was pollute the river. But they [the Art of Living Foundation] said all measures [to prevent pollution] had already been taken. Now with the judgment, in future, people will at least think whether they will hold such functions on the floodplain or not. That is the purpose which it served.

As for the cleaning of the Yamuna, if the government just closes its eyes and follows the judgments passed, the river will become clean. However, it is a separate issue if you do not comply with the judgment in its entirety. It is technically a sound and a comprehensive judgment, which is capable of being implemented.

As for air pollution in Delhi, , despite recurrent orders by the tribunal the city ends up in the same situation every year. How effective will these orders be if the government does not comply with them?

Again, the government should just follow the judgment because it tells you what one should do normally. The judgment talks about what one should do in normal conditions, followed by what to do when the parameters increase and finally the steps to be taken when the non-permissible limits are reached. If you follow the first stage throughout then the second and final stages will never arise.

It is the will to implement and the collective effort that matters. If everybody comes together, then the government will be forced to implement [the order]. The common man is a powerful weapon and if people come together, the government has to implement [orders] no matter who is in power.

Current vacancies in the tribunal have been affecting the rate of case disposals…

Naturally it will be affected but I believe it is being worked out.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 7:25:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/if-govt-closes-its-eyes-and-follows-judgments-passed-the-yamuna-will-be-clean/article23886705.ece

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