Court Digest: Major environment hearings of the week (October 19-23, 2020)

Down To Earth brings you the top environmental cases heard in the Supreme Court, the high courts and the National Green Tribunal

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 26 October 2020

Religious events in post COVID-19

The Supreme Court (SC) October 19, 2020 took up the writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution by the Nanded Sikh Gurudwara Sachkhand. The petition sought a direction to the authorities to grant  permission for conducting Dussehra, Takhat Isnan, Deepmala Mahalla, Gurta Gaddi Kirtan and Gurta-Gaddi Samapthi Kirtan Darbar and Nagar Kirtan events. 

Though the petitioner had come forward with a proposal of conducting the religious event on October 25 subject to conditions that would prevent any spread of the novel coronavirus, the Maharashtra government said any grant of permission for conducting a procession would be an invitation for danger to public health.

Judges L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi disposed of the application and said the court would not interfere with the decision of the state government to not permit any religious procession at this stage. The apex court suggested that the petitioner could approach the State Disaster Management Authority secretary and make a fresh proposal giving all the safeguards that could be taken by them for conducting procession and religious event for Dussehra.

The court also asked the secretary to consider unlock guidelines issued by the Centre September 30. Also, the fact that even the state government has been making attempts to bring back normalcy by relaxing restrictions. 

Kaleshwaram lift irrigation scheme 

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) October 20 directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to constitute a seven-member expert committee to assess the extent of damage caused due to the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme (KLIS) from 2008 to 2017 and identify the restoration measures necessary.

Relief and rehabilitation measures adopted and required to be further adopted would also be looked into by the joint committee.

The NGT refused to accept the stand of the project proponent, stating that KLIS was primarily meant for water supply and water management and that irrigation was subsidiary, and hence, environmental clearance was required prior to execution of the project.

The court noted that the project was predominantly for irrigation, though water supply was also involved. Plea to the contrary was untenable and thus, EC had been granted ex-post facto.

However, as the project was completed, the only issue remaining was of remedial action and future precautions, the NGT said.

An application was filed against the KLIS project with the NGT by Mohammad Hayath Udin citing the following discrepancies:

  • The infrastructure was being constructed prior to applying for Environmental Clearance (EC). EC was granted in December 2017 but before that substantial work had already been undertaken.
  • The project proponent wrongly claimed that the project was not for lift irrigation but only for drinking water supply till the grant of EC
  • The project underwent change by increase in capacity and inclusion of Mission Bhagiratha to provide drinking water to Hyderabad and certain villages of Telangana, but no fresh scoping was done.
  • There was discrepancy with regard to quantity of the forest land in the project.
  • Final EIA report wrongly stated there was no national park for wildlife sanctuary within a 10-km buffer.
  • The project was in seismic zone 2 and such a site was not suitable for the project.
  • Public hearing was not conducted as per procedure prescribed in the EIA notification.
  • It was submitted that even after the grant of EC, the project proponent did not follow the EC conditions.

Turtles nesting beaches of Goa

The NGT has directed removal of unauthorised constructions on the beaches of Goa before the turtle nesting season begins. It asked the state authorities to keep the beach areas fenced in order to them pristine and undisturbed during turtle nesting season that starts in November-December and continues till March-April.

The order came in the wake of an application filed by Victor Fernandes against the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) order February 11, 2020. The GCZMA order directed demolition of an illegal structure constructed by Rai Resort in a no-development zone of Ashvem Mandrem. A penalty of Rs one lakh was imposed on the resort.

The NGT, while dismissing the appeal, said some beaches are preferred by the sea turtles, particularly Olive Ridleys, for laying their eggs. Therefore, efforts must be made by the authorities concerned to keep such beaches undisturbed and in pristine condition.

No structures — temporary or permanent — should be erected on such beaches and no artificial lighting or food articles be thrown around, the NGT order read. 

Fly ash barges on the Hooghly

The NGT October 19 directed a committee to look into incidents of barges carrying fly ash capsizing in the Hooghly river in West Bengal. The committee was asked to fix responsibility and prepare a time-bound action plan to prevent such occurrences in the future.

The NGT action was in response to an application filed with it by the Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum. The application stated that riverine ecology had been disturbed due to such incidents as mostly old, worn out and dilapidated barges were being plied. It also said the activities were being undertaken in violation of Central Pollution Control Board guidelines issued in 2013.  

Illegal drinking water units in Maharashtra

The NGT directed the chief secretary, Maharashtra, to clarify as to how more than a 100 illegal manufacturing plants, units of drinking water jars and cans were operating in the state without any permission from the competent authorities.

It asked the chief secretary to ensure that all units, which have no authority from the Central Ground Water Authority or NOC from the competent authority, be sealed immediately and legal / penal action be initiated.  

The chief secretary was further directed to take remedial measures to check, identify and regulate the functioning of these units.
The NGT was hearing the appeal filed by Vijaysinh Dubbal against these illegal drinking water units. 

The NGT also passed a number of directions: 

  • In the absence of a no-objection certificate from Central Ground Water Authority, no extraction of underground water should be permitted
  • The industries / units drying underground water every day with no obligation of recharge / rainwater harvesting must be stopped immediately. The industries / units must be asked to take rational measures for recharge of the underground water / rainwater harvesting with due regard to the amount of underground drawn by it in the last more than four years
  • The industries / units must be asked and show cause notice be issued to pay compensation for illegal withdrawal of underground water for last so many years
  • The amount payable by the unit for withdrawal of underground water must be fixed on the principle ‘more the withdrawal higher the rates.’ The charge which has not been paid for years must be recovered with interest at the rate of 12 per cent per annum
  • The norms for recharge of underground water and rainwater harvesting must be fixed. Flow meter must be calibrated by government agencies and verified at least twice in a year
  • The unit encroaching upon the drains or diverting the untreated water into the drains must be asked to clear the encroachments and to ensure that no untreated water should be discharged into the municipal drains and to ensure the free flow of the natural course of water
  • Actual requirement and use of underground water by the unit must be verified through independent government agencies
    All industries / units must be asked to maintain verifiable records of ETP waste and other solid waste generated from their units
  • Central Ground Water Authority and Central Pollution Control Board has to lay down a parameter of quality of water which are being supplied in bottles to the people and further to take necessary action in case it was not found of the standard quality

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