The Uttar Pradesh government has not submitted any action taken report on measures taken to restore waterbodies in the last seven months
The chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh had to recently offer an unconditional apology to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for failing to file a status report on waterbodies in the state.
The tribunal was hearing a petition, filed by environmental activist Sushil Raghav, which said that more than 100 waterbodies in Ghaziabad had been encroached upon illegally and that nearby industries were dumping toxic chemicals in them.
According to Ghaziabad district development officer, only 31 of the 590 ponds in the district have been chosen under the chief minister’s Jal Bachao Yojana for restoring them to their original condition. This means that the district has plans for restoring only 5 per cent of its water bodies.
Ghaziabad town is no better. Of a total of 135 waterbodies, only 39 are encroachment-free, says Mata Pratap Singh, in-charge of the sampatti anubhag (property department) under the municipal corporation. The department looks after the lakes and waterbodies within the municipal limits.
Green tribunal’s directions ignored
NGT has passed a series of directions in the case over the past two years, but authorities have paid scant attention to them.
In August 2013, it had asked the chief secretary, district magistrate of Ghaziabad and divisional commissioner of Meerut (since Meerut shares a few waterbodies with Ghaziabad) why Ghaziabad district had lost such a large number of waterbodies. When they failed to file a reply, NGT imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on each of these authorities in October that year.
In the absence of concrete action, the tribunal asked the state government to remove encroachments from all waterbodies in Uttar Pradesh and provide a database of lakes and waterbodies in the district of Ghaziabad. Meanwhile, the court identified UP State Industrial Development Corporation (UPSIDC), UP Awas Evam Vikas Parishad (Housing Board) and Ghaziabad Development Authority (GDA) as agencies that had encroached upon many waterbodies in the district.
In December 2014, NGT ordered the UP chief secretary to restore the health of threatened waterbodies across the state in six months and file an action taken report (ATR) on the fifth of every month beginning January 2015. Till last month, no such ATR had been made available to the court.
This led NGT to demand an unconditional apology in the last hearing, for disregarding the directions of the tribunal.
Action taken by other states
In a historic judgement in 2011, the Supreme Court had passed a similar direction asking state governments to prepare an eviction scheme to remove illegal occupants of village common lands (including ponds and waterbodies). The chief secretaries of states and union territories were asked to submit the first compliance report within two months of the judgement.
A few states did show certain initiatives taken by them after the judgement and some states even prepared action plans (See ‘Action taken in response to 2011 judgement’). But it is not clear whether the state secretaries prepared any compliance reports because no such reports are available in the public domain.
|Chandigarh||First union territory to come up with detailed data on panchayat land, including waterbodies, in April 2015|
|Delhi||In 2011, Delhi government's Public Grievances Commission (PGC) issued notices to over 80 properties, asking them to remove illegal constructions on a pond. In 2012, the Delhi Cabinet approved auctioning of fishing activities in 24 water bodies on gram sabha land in the city. This action was taken to stop encroachment of waterbodies. In 2013, Delhi High Court held that waterbodies are community assets and ordered all deputy secretaries to take back waterbodies that had been allotted to village residents during consolidation.|
|Gujarat||Circular issued to stop encroachment in 2011|
|Haryana||In 2012, Haryana's financial commissioner and principal secretary of science and technology department asked the state to start desilting to rejuvenate waterbodies.|
|Jammu and Kashmir||In 2012, officials discussed the action plan for rejuvenation and development of waterbodies like community ponds, baolis and wells in rural areas of the district. Government devised a scheme to get encroached land evicted. In February 2015, the scheme was drafted.|
|Kerala||In 2012, Kerala High Court issued an order to the district collector of Ernakulam, the revenue divisional officer, Arimpur gram panchayat and the Namboorkkavu Devaswom (temple) to protect the temple tank.|
|Maharashtra||In accordance with the Supreme Court judgment, the government in July 2011 issued orders to local self government bodies (gram panchayat, nagarpalika, nagar parishad) to prepare an action plan to remove encroachments on common village lands or grazing land even if the structure is expensive or has been there for a long time.|
|Odisha||In 2014, the Odisha government asked the state to formulate strict laws to protect waterbodies.|
|Punjab||A pond eviction case was filed by a block development and panchayat officer in January 2013.|
|Rajasthan||Rajasthan government in 2011 said that allotment and regularisation of charagah land or catchments of a pond or water reservoirs and ponds for private or commercial use are to be stopped immediately. The state planned boundary demarcation of all panchayat lands (including ponds) in 2011.|
|Tamil Nadu||In January 2012, the state rural development department planned to remove encroachment on scores of waterbodies falling under its jurisdiction and restore the storage of the waterbodies to their original capacity. The work has been planned under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). Panchayat representatives demanded a database in 2015.|
|Uttar Pradesh||Allahabad High Court passed two judgments in April 2011 and one in 2013, asking authorities to make waterbodies encroachment-free and restore them in some cases.|
|Source: Foundation for Ecological Society|
Apart from Ghaziabad, Kanpur has also shown a decline in the state of village ponds, according to Gujarat-based non-profit Foundation for Ecological Society.
Ponds and waterbodies across the country need immediate care, say the courts. There has been no implementation of court directions and states have failed in this regard.
The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, notified by the Union environment ministry, was created for the purpose of saving these waterbodies. But these laws need teeth to have far-reaching impacts, says Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Upadhyay.
“Once the wetland is notified under the Act (by government authority only), only then it can be protected, otherwise the Act is of no use. If the government body fails to notify a wetland, then that wetland cannot be protected,” he explains.
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