Why NGT’s calls on restoration of water bodies is need of the hour

National Green Tribunal’s 2019 order asking states to identify, protect and restore water bodies underlines the urgency to save them

By Sushmita Sengupta
Published: Friday 05 June 2020

The nationwide lockdown imposed to break the spread of the novel coronavirus disease spread in India brought into light a new, pleasant discovery — improvement in quality of several water bodies and their catchments as a host of industrial activities halted.

There is a need to restore and create more such water bodies for water security. The recent National Green Tribunal (NGT) order showed that the green court has identified that this was the need of the hour and that water bodies needed to be saved on a war footing.

Following a plea filed in 2015 to save water bodies in Haryana’s Gurugram district, the green tribunal in 2019 passed an order asking states to identify, protect and restore the water bodies. The states were asked to file status reports to the Central Pollution Controlled Board (CPCB).

But the states failed to do so. In February 2020, they were asked, again, by the green court to submit the status report by March 31, 2020. The court verdict said the chief secretaries of the states / Union Territories would have to pay Rs 1 lakh per month till the information was filed.

The CPCB report, published in May 2020, stated that only nine states — Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Odisha and Tripura — and two Union Territories Puducherry and Lakshadweep provided information. Looking at the response, the NGT announced a new date of submission, ie, end-July. CPCB is supposed to review these and file its report by October 31, 2020.

The reports brought out the interest of the states in preserving these water bodies, but has not been very encouraging, except for in a few states. Kerala, for example, seemed quite proactive in this direction. It stated in its report that it undertook initiatives to restore and rejuvenate its water bodies.

Around 41,036 ponds were being maintained by Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), department of soil survey and soil conservation, directorate of urban affairs / Panchayats and Haritha Keralam Mission.

About 40,000 ponds in 14 districts have already been identified by Irrigation Design and Research Board (IDRB), for which a unique identification number was assigned.

The report added that field survey would be carried out by all departments / agencies concerned and it would be checked whether they have been included in the already rejuvenated ponds / lakes by different departments.

If it is not included, immediate action would be initiated.

The state also recognised the need of coordination among different agencies / departments looking after lakes and ponds. Coordination between the citizens, government departments and the non-governmental organisations is lacking and acts as a hurdle in conserving water bodies, according to Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based think-tank.

And yet, the states did not identify the need of restoration / protection of catchments for rejuvenation of lakes / ponds which are mostly rainwater lakes. The protection of waterbodies and their catchment is only half the story. The real challenge lies in ensuring that these bodies are supplied unpolluted rainwater and they are recharged.

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