Development authority fails to give clear answers on fate of development in the river’s inviolate zone
It has been two years since the Allahabad High Court passed a landmark order to institute an inviolate zone for construction in the Ganga floodplain. The court asked the Allahabad Development Authority (ADA), Uttar Pradesh, to demarcate the zone 500 metre from high flood levels. Officials of the Allahabad Development Authority (ADA) say that demarcation has been made. The authority, however, lacks clarity and opinion on the possible grievances of residents whose properties fall within the zone.
As per the interim order, renovation within the zone is prohibited. “Persons already residing within the demarcated zone and those who recently bought land with the intention of constructing a homestead are most burdened by this order,” says Upendra Veer Singh, an advocate residing within the zone. According to Singh, the opposition of residents to the prohibition has not decreased despite the recent floods in Uttarakhand.
Residents are not the only party facing hardships because of the order. It has been difficult for construction companies to determine the exact area of the no-go zone. The interim order unambiguously places a blanket ban on any construction within 200 metres, and calls for special permissions to construct within the next 300 metres. “Continuous monitoring of constructions within the 500 metre zone is being carried out,” says Amarnath Upadhyay, secretary of ADA. Local reports suggest to the contrary.
Though the ADA has pleaded to the court that such zoning is causing undue hardship, given that residential colonies are already present in the restricted zone, it was made clear that the very purpose of the ADA is to ensure planned development. Pancham Realcon Private Limited, a construction company based in Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh is hoping to turn a stretch of the Ganga waterfront into hi-tech property and continues to plead in court for a modification of the 2011 order.
A reputed developer and party to the case, who chose to stay anonymous, said arguments against the interim order of the Allahabad High Court has been concluded, and that the final judgment is awaited. The delay in the passing of this final order is causing problems. It is alleged that some litigants have been approaching developers, threatening to initiate public interest petitions against proposed projects. The litigants argue that developers only see the river flood plains as lucrative land.
Go-to petition bans plastics
The zoning order was given two years ago. However, the overarching public interest litigation (PIL) that the order is a part of has been running since 2006, expanding in scope over the years and allowing the High Court to extend its authority over statewide environmental management of the Ganga. A case that began as a prayer to ensure that the Ganga is suitable for bathing at the Sangam in Allahabad during the Magh (Kumbh) Mela has now become the go-to PIL for all petitions related to the river in Uttar Pradesh.
In 2006, the high court issued strict orders on the regulation of flow from the Narora dam, without any details on the quantum of release downstream. On the water quality front, in 2007, the Court ordered all tanneries, industries, sugar factories, distilleries and paper manufacturing factories which discharge effluents into the Ganga be identified and shut down if they are found without an effective treatment plan. The Court has been continually demanding reports on sewage treatment plants (STPs) in Allahabad, Varanasi and Kanpur.
It also formed a committee to look into proper dredging methods in 2007, and ordered the state to look into banning plastics two kilometre from the river in every major city along the Ganga in 2010. Solid waste from each of these cities finds its way and settles in the river bed.
Polythene bags were banned in Allahabad during the Mahakumbh Mela earlier this year. Though the Court has been persistent in directing the state of Uttar Pradesh to consider a plastic ban in all cities on the river, this is yet to be implemented by the state. It remains to be seen how exactly the state will execute these orders as ban on plastic and construction restrictions in Allahabad will set a precedent for regulation in other cities along the Ganga.
The order is not restricted to the Ganga floodplain. As per the order no construction shall be undertaken by any resident or builder within 500 metres of highest flood level in city of Allahabad for the river Yamuna, too, as it flows by Allahabad and joins the river Ganga.