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The government has spent over Rs 7,000 crore in two years to cleanse the Ganga which still remains a "serious enviromental issue", the National Green Tribunal said today as it issued a slew of directives including banning all construction activity within 100 metres of the river edge.
In a detailed judgement, the tribunal also prohibited dumping of waste within 500 metres from the river, ordering that every offender would be liable to pay a penalty of Rs 50,000 per default.
"There are considerable unutilised funds as of today, besides the huge funds that have been made available under the national project as declared by the Prime Minister wherein Rs 20,000 crore have been allocated for the five years commencing 2015-2020.
"Even after spending Rs 7304.64 crores upto March, 2017, by the Central Government, State Government and local authorities of the State of UP, the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality or otherwise and it continues to be a serious environmental issue," the NGT said.
The order, running into 543 pages, said "till the demarcation of floodplains and identification of permissible and non-permissible activities by the state government of this judgement, we direct that 100 meters from the edge of the river would be treated as no development/construction zone between Haridwar to Unnao in UP."
"No-development zones" are areas where no construction including commercial or residential buildings can come up.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar directed all concerned authorities to commence the work of setting up of sewage treatment plants and installation of anti-pollution devices within four months and complete it within two years.
Welcoming the order, noted environmentalist and lawyer M C Mehta, on whose petition the verdict was pronounced, demanded a CBI probe into the spending of over Rs 7000 crore by the Centre and state government in cleaning the 500 km stretch of the Ganga.
In the order, the NGT said all projects referred to in its verdict should be finalised by National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) and said that primarily it would be the responsibility of Ministry of Water Resources and NMCG to finalise these projects out of the available funds.
Regarding shifting of tanneries located in Jajmau cluster in Kanpur, the bench sought an action plan from the leather units within six weeks, failing which "the UP government shall be duty bound to close the tanneries and shift the same to Banthar, Unnao or any other developed site which it considers appropriate."
The NGT directed regulation of activities on banks of the Ganga and its tributaries and ordered UP and Uttarakhand governments to formulate guidelines for religious activities on the ghats during festivals.
On the issue of maintaining the flow of the river, the tribunal directed that the minimum environment flow should not fall "below 20 per cent of the average monthly lean season flow."
It also imposed a complete prohibition on disposal of municipal solid waste, e-waste or bio-medical waste on the floodplains or into the river and its tributaries.
The tribunal reiterated its earlier order of ban on mechanical mining in Ganga and said "no in-stream mechanical mining is permitted and even the mining on the flood plain should be semi-mechanical and preferably more manual."
"Such mining should be permitted only after a detailed and comprehensive assessment of the annual replenishment of sand and gravel in the river bed and ensuring that the longitudinal and lateral connectivity of the river is not disturbed and that only quantity less or equal to the annual replenishment is permitted to be removed from the river bed or its banks," it said.
"The industries shall contribute finances not exceeding 25 per cent of the total cost in relation to the construction, upgradation of sewage treatment plant, common effluent treatment plant and providing common infrastructure.
Till the works on the projects in accordance with the judgement are commenced, "the NMCG and/or any other funding Ministry would not incur any expenditure on any projects in the States of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh relating to cleaning and rejuvenation of river Ganga and its tributaries falling in the segment between Gaumukh to Unnao," it said.
The NGT held that all the industrial units falling in the catchment area of Ganga and its tributaries should not be permitted to indiscriminately extract ground water and asked Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) to carry out the study and notify areas falling between Haridwar and Unnao as "over exploited, critical, semi-critical and safe zone."
"There shall be complete prohibition on extraction of groundwater in the critical areas... Extraction of groundwater should be subject to the CGWA granting permission for such extraction, and that too, only after ensuring that such permission is granted after rigorous water use assessment by the industry...," it said.
The NGT also appointed a supervisory committee, headed by the secretary of the Water Resources Ministry and comprising IIT professors and officials from UP government to oversee implementation of its directions.
"This committee shall oversee and supervise proper and effective implementation of all the projects under this judgement and will ensure providing of funds expeditiously and finally submit the implementation-cum-progress report to the tribunal every three months," it said.
An implementation committee was also set up to provide details of the Ganga cleaning projects and the manner and methodology in which these should be implemented.