NGT probe into cruise operating in Bhopal Ramsar wetland

Pollution control authorities directed to monitor contamination by ship periodically

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 20 January 2023
The wetland is also a Ramsar site with international importance and has two lakes, Upper lake, also called Bhojtal and Lower Lake or Chhota Talaab. Photo: iStock

The National Green Tribunal has directed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) to periodically monitor the activities of a cruise vessel polluting the Bhoj wetland in Bhopal, MP.

The order was issued January 10, 2023. Applicant Subhash Pandey had approached the NGT, highlighting violations committed in permitting the cruise vessel in Bhoj wetland by the Madhya Pradesh government. The cruise began operating in 2011, as per an August 2022 report from English daily The Times of India.

The wetland is also a Ramsar site with international importance and has two lakes, Upper lake, also called Bhojtal and Lower Lake or Chhota Talaab. It provides drinking water to 1.2 million people, Pandey highlighted during the January 10 hearing.

Read more: Top 5 facts you should know about the largest transboundary Ramsar Site

Small cruise vessels with passengers act as floating colonies that pollute water bodies with sewage, wastewater and other contaminants, the petition claimed. A mid-sized cruise vessel can consume 150 tonnes of fuel each day and dump toxic waste in water, Pandey alleged, citing a research paper.

“The state government has permitted the operation of the cruise with a capacity of 50 passengers, but even broad estimates suggest that human sewage of 19,000 litres will be generated in a week alone,” he said.

The state government plans to introduce cruise vessels of bigger capacity in summer 2023, he added.

Launching cruise vessels will be a direct violation of the state government’s own laws, Pandey told NGT. As per a notification released on March 16, 2022, only non-motorised boats are permitted.

“The cruise boat operates on diesel, which is a clear violation. It will also directly violate the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, which states prevention of water pollution and other air pollution Acts and Biological Diversity Act of 1974 and 2002, respectively,” he said.

Upper lake hosts 15 varieties of fish and turtles, he said. About 2,500 migratory birds across the world visit the wetland that serves as a breeding and nesting habitat for them. “The launching of the cruise vessel and increasing human activity due to tourists will directly impact biodiversity,” he said.

In August 2022, the cruise vessel floating in Upper lake reported leakage and damage due to heavy rains and partially drowned, Pandey told Down To Earth.

“This threatened the water body and population depending on it with health hazards. The operator has not issued any certificate or guarantee to prevent leakage or spillage either,” he said.

Similar cruises began operations in the Narmada river in June 2022 and the central government plans to introduce them in other water bodies of the country too. “Such environmental damage should be stopped at all costs,” he added.

The NGT directed the CPCB to submit an independent report by experts. “Submit a factual and action-taken report with regard to the compliance of the rules and government orders,” it said.

Read more: Road construction projects are destroying Goa's traditional wetlands

It also directed the CPCB and MPPCB to monitor the activities of the cruise on the Bhoj wetland for pollution caused by its operations.

“Since Bhoj wetland is a Ramsar site, all the activities inside it should be conducted in the purview of the conservation guidelines. Operating a cruise vessel will pollute the site, which is an environmental threat,” said Ritesh Kumar, director of non-profit Wetland International, South Asia.

Increasing tourist footprint should also have a plan for how to balance or compensate for the damage caused, Kumar said. “Motor boats do ply in inland waters such as Kerala backwaters, but guidelines are needed for operating a cruise vessel,” he added.

The court will hear the response on February 13, 2023.

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