Daily Court Digest: Major environment orders (October 9, 2023)

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: Tuesday 10 October 2023

SC on Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal dispute

The Supreme Court (SC) has instructed the Centre to survey the portion of land in Punjab allocated for the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal, with the primary aim of protecting the land.

Furthermore, the SC suggested that an estimation be made regarding the extent of construction that has already taken place in Punjab in relation to the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal project.

The matter pertains to implementing a decree for constructing the Satluj-Yamuna Link Canal, specifically in the Punjab region. Haryana has already completed the construction of its portion of the canal.

Land acquisition and construction activities had also begun in Punjab. However, there may exist variations in estimates regarding the progress of construction within the Punjab region. The Punjab government made significant efforts to release the land to the farmers, but these actions were halted by a court order.

The Punjab government emphasised to the Supreme Court that water availability has diminished over time, potentially affecting Haryana’s claimed share, which they suggested could be addressed through alternative means.

However, the apex court reaffirmed that the matter at hand had already been resolved, emphasising that the execution proceedings do not pertain to water allocation.

Untreated sewage discharge into Yamuna

On October 5, 2023, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued a directive to the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh. The directive specifically instructed the Chief Secretary to submit an action-taken report regarding the tribunal’s previous order issued on April 11.

The above-mentioned order aimed to address the problem of untreated sewage discharge into the Yamuna river at Mathura-Vrindavan. The NGT has set a deadline of six weeks for the submission of this report.

The tribunal was responding to a petition that alleged the 36 drains in the Mathura-Vrindavan area have been releasing sewage directly into the Yamuna River.

This has led to a severe deterioration in the water quality of the Yamuna to the extent that it is now incapable of supporting any form of aquatic life. Moreover, out of these 36 drains, 30 have been tapped, while six continue to discharge untreated sewage.

The applicant has strongly contested the official assertion that 70 million litres per day of sewage are being effectively treated in Mathura-Vrindavan, asserting that this claim is misleading and inaccurate.

In its order dated April 11, the NGT issued clear directives to the Chief Secretary in collaboration with other relevant authorities in the state. The tribunal emphasised the importance of taking immediate remedial actions and called for a special meeting of concerned officers to facilitate this process.

The key directives from the tribunal included the interception and diversion of untreated drains towards identified Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), ensuring the utilisation of treated sewage for irrigation and agriculture in the designated command area, and limiting the discharge of treated sewage into the river only during non-utilisation periods.

A report submitted by the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board on August 10, 2023, revealed that an environmental compensation of Rs 3.25 crores has been levied on the City Commissioner of Mathura-Vrindavan. This compensation amounts to Rs 5 lakh per drain per month and has been imposed for 13 months, covering five specific drains.

Another report issued by the Central Pollution Control Board highlighted an alarmingly high concentration of faecal coliform at the outlets of sewage treatment plants, rendering the discharge unsuitable for release into the river or for any other form of human contact. Additionally, the report brought to the tribunal’s attention that the chlorination process had proven ineffective in addressing this concerning issue.

Mining near Son Gharial sanctuary

The NGT has directed the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) of Madhya Pradesh and two wildlife wardens to submit separate reports on the status of mining in the eco-sensitive zones of the Son Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary.

The tribunal ordered the authorities to explicitly state the distance of the mining lease area from the boundary of the Son Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary. The reports should include a coloured map that illustrates the mining area, the wildlife sanctuary and the eco-sensitive zone, accompanied by relevant geo-coordinates.

Furthermore, the NGT has emphasised that the submitted reports should provide clear information regarding the existence of a sand bridge and whether sand mining activities have been conducted within the primary stream of the river Son by the miner or any other party.

Additionally, the reports should clarify whether the leased mining area falls within the eco-sensitive zone of the Son Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary.

The matter is based on allegations of illegal mining, which violate the notification dated December 13, 2016, primarily because the leased mining area is within a kilometre of the Son Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary, designated as an eco-sensitive zone. It has been claimed that mining activities and the sand bridge construction are disrupting the mainstream of the river bed.

The NGT has also noted that the maps presented in the case indicate that the mining area falls within the state of Uttar Pradesh. To ensure the accuracy of these claims and to clarify the status of the mining area within the prohibited zone, the NGT has directed the member secretary of SEIAA, Madhya Pradesh, along with the wildlife wardens of both Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, to submit additional reports for further factual clarification.

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