By LE Desk

New Delhi, June 8, 2021: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has come down heavily on Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana for failing to stop the discharge of untreated effluents in the Ghaggar river and said that “if the State itself fails in implementing the law, it is nothing but breakdown of the system itself”.

A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the three States and Chandigarh continue to contribute water pollution which is a criminal offence.

“It is breach of public trust under public trust doctrine. We are left with a feeling that there is no commitment to the rule of law and no concern for the environment and health of the citizens on the part of the concerned authorities in the States of H.P., Haryana, Punjab and UT Chandigarh,” said the Bench, also comprising Justice Sudhir Agarwal, news agency PTI reported.

The tribunal directed the Chief Secretary, Punjab and the Advisor to the Administrator, Union Territory of Chandigarh in coordination with other concerned officers to take appropriate remedial measures to comply with the mandate of law, including the directions of the Supreme Court.

It also directed a joint committee of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Punjab PCB and pollution control committee of Chandigarh to inspect the drain and furnish a status report within two months by e-mail.

The tribunal said that in spite of enactment of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 making discharge of untreated effluents into a water body a criminal offence, the States are still struggling to prevent untreated sewage from being discharged into the water body at a huge cost to the environment and health and lives of citizens who have fundamental right to clean environment under the Constitution. “Water pollution is a serious threat to the health of the citizens as well as other living beings who consume the water and also to the food safety for growth of which the water is used for irrigation…there can be no justification whatsoever for the State to have failed in complying with the law.

“If the State finds that they are unable to manage the sewage directly, there is no bar to other options being explored but there cannot be any justification not to comply with the mandate of law and protecting the health of the citizens in accordance with the Constitutional mandate,” the Bench said, reported PTI.

The green panel said that no action is being taken against the erring officers and it gives an impression that there is collapse of Environmental rule of law.

“Who is to pay the cost of damage to the environment and public health of large number of unidentified citizens and other living creatures? Is such cost being calculated. How officers responsible for damage by their inaction or otherwise are being dealt with. Should the State be held liable vicariously for such failure and failure to punish the guilty,” the Bench said.

The Bench that the NGT has been passing repeated orders and as many as six reports have been submitted by a Monitoring Committee headed by a former High Court Judge and a former Chief Secretary, clearly recording failure of the State authorities but the higher authorities are also conveniently ignoring their responsibility.

“Advocates for the authorities only maintain silence before this Tribunal. If the State itself fails in implementing the law, it is nothing but breakdown of the system itself.

“Is this Tribunal to just remain silent spectator for such gross failure or hold highest authorities accountable by directing their prosecution for their criminal failure and indirectly being party to the crime against the law of the land? How the law of the land is to be meaningfully enforced. We expect answers to these questions from the States,” the Bench said.

NGT said the States should realise their responsibility to function according to the Constitution and take immediate remedial measures in punishing the guilty involved in failing to comply with the law and also take prompt measures instead of repeatedly taking the same plea of being engaged in tender process.

“It should not be difficult at this length of time to overcome such procedural requirements and to effectively prevent discharge of the untreated effluents after 46 years of enactment of Water Act and repeated orders of the Supreme Court and other Courts.

“For delay and continued violation, realistic compensation has to be recovered from the erring officers, apart from other action or in default, the compensation has to be quantified and recovered. The Executing Committee may make its recommendation in this regard,” the Bench said.

The tribunal was hearing a plea against failure of statutory authorities in Punjab and Chandigarh to install necessary Sewage Treatment Plant, resulting in discharge of pollution in the drain originating from Chandigarh and passing through various sectors and villages of Mohali, before merging into Ghaggar River.

“The pollution is affecting the eco-system, including the aquatic life and also public health. Discharge of untreated sewage into the drain is violation of Water [Prevention and Control of Pollution] Act, 1974 and also citizens right to clean environment.

“Further, since the waste water of the drain is used for cultivation of crops and washing of the vegetables which are consumed by the residents, it is affecting the food chain and public health,” the plea said.

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