The Government has no right to transfer “invaluable” community resources like village water ponds to a few powerful people and industrialists for commercialisation of the property, when many areas of the country perennially face water crisis and access to drinking water is woefully inadequate, the Supreme Court has held.
“Protection of such village commons is essential to safeguard the fundamental right guaranteed by Article 21 of our Constitution. These common areas are the lifeline of village communities, and often sustain various chores and provide resources necessary for life,” a Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Surya Kant observed in a recent judgment.
‘Exploited for long’
The court said the State cannot divest villagers of their existing source of water even if it promises to provide them an alternative site where the water body can be replicated. Such an attitude would display “a mechanical application of environmental protection,” the court said. There is no guarantee that the adverse effect of destroying the existing water body would be offsetand people would be compelled to travel miles to access the alternative site, said the SC.
“Since time immemorial, certain common lands had vested in village communities for collective benefit… Such protections, however, remained on paper. Since Independence, powerful people and a corrupt system had appropriated these lands for personal aggrandisement,” Justice Kant observed.
The judgment came on a plea by activist-lawyer Jitendra Singh against the transfer of village ponds’ sites of Saini Village in the National Capital Region to some private industrialists by the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority.
The National Green Tribunal had refused to intervene on Mr. Singh’s plea that excavators and other heavy machinery were attempting to take over a common pond used by the villagers for a century.
Setting aside the Tribunal’s order, the apex court ordered the authorities and the industrialists to remove all obstructions and restore the water bodies within three months.