In a major victory for NGO Vanashakti and environmentalists fighting for protection of Ulhas river, while hearing the river pollution matter on Tuesday, the Supreme Court made the Maharashtra Chief Secretary Maharashtra give an undertaking that it will disburse Rs 100 crore for the restoration of Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers.
In fact, the SC bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta directed the State Chief Secretary Sumit Mullick to make a decision on the payment then and there in the court without any further delay, after which he agreed, and it was decided that the entire sum will be paid within two months with the first tranche of Rs 50 crore paid within four weeks.
Zaman Ali, counsel for Vanashakti said this is a landmark decision, as it would be one of the highest compensation ordered by the SC to be paid by a government for environmental violations.
“The bench was clearly very disappointed, as there were no steps being taken by concerned authorities to stop the irregularities and pollution of Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers,” he said.
“In fact, when the state government on Tuesday asked for an additional three years for the restoration of the rivers, the bench rejected the plea, pointing out that they have done nothing over the past two years despite the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order for restoration,” said Ali, adding that the state had clearly been only seeking extensions and not even following their own deadlines that they have been citing in their affidavits.
Meanwhile, the SC also has directed the Chief Secretary to take a decision on shutting all illegal industries immediately and action on disconnection of electricity and water supply to all jeans washing units in Ulhasnagar. “Most of these illegally operating units were directly releasing effluents in the river that had turned the water red. There was contamination of drinking water as well,” informed Ali.
The amount will be deposited in an escrow account and the Chief Secretary, in suggestion with Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), will use the money for implementing the rivers restoration.
A senior official from Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) said that the amount is the state’s commitment to improve the condition of the rivers. “MPCB has been directing the municipal corporations to strictly implement the directives to ensure that the quality of river water improves but its true that the local corporations had not been taking this issue seriously, but now with the SC orders, a lot of things will fall in place,” he said adding that MPCB has cracked on several unauthourised units and will direct the corporations to shut the illegally operating jeans washing units in Ulhasnagar.
“It’s a major decision. The order comes as a big relief since we have relentlessly pursued this case for the past five years,” said Stalin D, Director, Projects Vanshakti.