Dubbing the issue of groundwater depletion in the national capital as a "serious problem", the Supreme Court today slammed the Centre, the Delhi government and their civic bodies for not taking any steps in this regard and said that Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq was smart as he had tried to shift the capital out of here.
The apex court, while observing that the authorities were just "passing the buck" and shying away from their responsibilities, also came down heavily on the Ministry of Water Resources for its affidavit saying a "school child" or a man on the street could also write an essay about the water problem in Delhi.
"Have you seen the NITI Aayog report? It says that there will be no ground water in Delhi. There is pollution. Perhaps you will shift the capital. From where will groundwater come," a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
"Muhammad bin Tughluq was smart and 400 years ago, he had shifted the capital (from Delhi)," the bench said.
Tughluq was the Sultan of Delhi from 1325 to 1351. He had shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad (now in Maharashtra) in 1327, fearing invasions. However, rebellions and disease in various parts of his empire, including Bengal, had forced him to shift the capital back to Delhi in 1335.
The bench observed that in Delhi, there were serious problems of pollution, scarcity of water, drying up of river Yamuna and the authorities being unable to tackle them.
Referring to the authorities "passing the buck", the bench said "the person who is responsible, says I am not responsible for this. Everybody has to be blamed in this country, except the person in-charge". If this was the situation, then the court will recall its order passed in the matter, it observed.
Justice Lokur said "is he (official responsible for this) going to be accountable or will he sit like a monarch and say he should do this and he should do that."
The apex court, while referring to the NITI Aayog report, said it has pointed towards exploitation of groundwater in several cities, especially Delhi.
The suggestions given by the Ministry of Water Resources in its affidavit are "nothing but an essay", the bench said while reading out some of the suggestions, including that there was a need to increase level in Delhi and strengthening the water distribution system.
"Anybody walking on the street can tell all this. We do not want an expert to say these things," the bench said, adding, "You ask a school child to write an essay on water problem in Delhi and he or she will give all these suggestions".
"These are the kind of experts we have and that is why we are facing so many problems," it said.
The court also said there were flood-like situation in Mumbai, while there was no water in Shimla and nine per cent deficient rainfall in north India. "One place is dry and one place has floods. So, you will say that the average is good. What do you propose to do? Nothing. You are just passing on the buck," the court said.
It said as per a report, there would be no groundwater in Delhi by 2021 which means that people cannot survive here.
Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, said that groundwater depletion was at an "alarming level" and he would go through the NITI Aayog's report and furnish proper suggestions before the court.
"You give us suggestions -- immediate, intermediary and long term steps -- for this. There should also be steps for recharge and preservation of groundwater. You are doing nothing to reduce water consumption. There is no plan for recharge and preservation of groundwater," the bench said.
It also referred to the report filed earlier by Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) on the status of groundwater level in Delhi from May 2000 till May 2017 and said that it was stated in the report that several areas in Delhi were under the category of "semi-critical" and "critical" level as far as groundwater was concerned.
The bench also pulled up the Delhi government and Delhi Pollution Control Committee for not filing their affidavits in the matter and observed that they were not even bothered about the problems faced by the national capital.
The bench asked Nadkarni to file an affidavit within four weeks giving details of the steps which were required to be taken in the matter.
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