Green tribunal halts construction on Puri coast

Directs Odisha government to submit report on status of waste disposal and treatment in the city by February

By Srestha Banerjee
Published: Saturday 07 December 2013

The coastal city of Puri in Odisha, which is a major pilgrim centre, is under the scanner of the National Green Tribunal (NGT). Following a petition filed by Subhas Datta, environmentalist from West Bengal, that raised concern over indiscriminate development on Puri beach and pollution of coastal waters, the NGT bench chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar has issued a restraint order on any construction activity on the beach. The bench also directed the state government and Puri municipality on Thursday to file detailed affidavits on the status of solid waste and sewage management and disposal in the city.

“A number of factors are posing a major threat for the coastal areas of Puri,” says Datta. “The area suffers from severe development pressure as well as serious pollution problems stemming from ineffective functioning of local authorities in managing municipal solid waste and sewage.” Datta has also submitted photographs before the tribunal, supporting his claims. The bench expressed disappointment on seeing the scale of indiscriminate construction that is being carried out on the beach, and the fact that the Puri municipality has laid a sewerage line right on the beach, which is a protected zone falling within the buffer zone of the coastline. The bench noted that such mindless activity sets the perfect stage for disaster to happen.

“The situation in Puri coast is reflective of the scale of problem that threatens our coasts and the state of coastal regulation in India,” says Datta. In India, the Coastal Zone Regulation (CRZ) Notification, 2011 is the main law governing coastal management that aims to protect coastal ecology and livelihoods. The most sensitive area in the coastal zone is designated CRZ 1, that includes mangroves, corals and habitat of various marine species. An area which lies within 500 metre (m) of high tide line (HTL) on the landward side falls within this zone. According to the CRZ notification, no new construction activity is permitted in CRZ 1, except for activities that are indispensable, including projects relating to Department of Atomic Energy, laying pipelines, conveying systems including transmission lines of installation of weather radar monitoring systems by India Meteorological Department.

Development threatens coast

The petition raised serious concern over CRZ violations in Puri beach. According to official estimates of Odisha Tourism Department, there are more than 360 hotels in Puri. The high footfall of tourists can be estimated from the fact that the average occupancy of the hotels over the past five years has been between 60 to 70 per cent, with an average of 1.5 million tourists visiting annually. “There are several new constructions under way on the beach which are within 100m of the HTL,” alleged Datta. The bench noted that many of the hotels being developed close to the sea not only put pressure on the fragile coastal zone, but also are a threat to human life and property. The bench cited the instance of the recent Phailin cyclone when high tidal waves reached the first floor of some of the hotels located within the CRZ zone and blocked the entire road with sand as high as 10 feet at some places. The bench noted this to be the “devastating effect of infringement of CRZ Regulations”. Such violations also point towards disregard of the fact that given its vulnerability towards flooding from cyclones, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has already identified Puri as a “high damage risk zone” in the Ecocity Development Plan of Puri, 2004.

Unholy pollution

Water pollution is also a major threat to the coastal areas of the town. Improper management and disposal of domestic solid waste and sewage is affecting the water quality on the sea coast. A site visit by Odisha state pollution control board (SPCB) in July this year indicated serious pollution of water resulting from untreated waste discharge. The waste water discharge from the food preparation facility of the Jagannath temple in Puri was identified to be a major problem. As noted by the temple authority, on a regular basis food offering is prepared in this premise to thousands of devotees. The untreated waste from here enters the municipal drain and is finally disposed off in the sea.

The report submitted by SPCB showed water quality parameters of the waste discharge do not meet the prescribed standards. According to the report, the concentration of total suspended solid was found to be 4,830 mg/litre as against permissible limit of 200 mg/l, BOD is 10,200 mg/l as against permissible limit of 75 mg/l; COD was found to be 20,159 mg/l as against provided standard of 250 mg/l. The report also indicated the dismal state of sewage and solid waste collection, treatment and disposal in the city. “The only solid waste management facility that the city has is practically non-operational and the sewage treatment plant is still under construction,” says Dilip Kumar Behera, senior environmental scientist with the SPCB. Acknowledging the urgency of the situation he said  SCPB had warned the municipality about the situation, but that till date the response has remained unsatisfactory. 

NGT had earlier given direction for setting up a committee chaired by the chief secretary of Odisha that was to visit Puri town to examine all the environmental problems, and submit a report on the pollution status, provisions for solid waste and sewage treatment and disposal and disposal of bio-medical waste in the city. The committee was also required to submit detailed information on unauthorized constructions existing in the CRZ and within 500m of high tide line. The response of the state government or the concerned authorities in such matters of violation is also required to be filed. On Thursday, Odisha state government submitted that the committee will take about four months time to submit its final report. The bench strongly noted that the time frame seems far drawn, and the report needs to be filed by February 3 given the gravity of the problem. The case is now listed for January 15 for further directions.


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