The Bombay High Court has refused to grant any relief to the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) that had challenged a local court order denying it permission to dump solid waste at a private plot of land.
Justice Mridula Bhatkar, presiding over the appeal filed by the TMC, also rapped the civic body for persisting with the said litigation even though a civil judge and the district court in Thane had found that the corporation had illegally been dumping solid waste at the site.
In an order passed last week, Justice Bhatkar reminded the corporation that it was a "public body" that must adopt a "citizen-friendly approach," and not act as a "hostile", private litigant when it came to issues of public interest.
The HC was hearing a second appeal filed by the TMC against a 2012 order of the Thane district and sessions court upholding a previous order of a local civil judge restraining the civic body from dumping any kind of waste, whether treated, or untreated, on the said site.
The civil judge's order had come after a local NGO and two private citizens from Thane, in their suit, alleged illegality on the corporation's part and sought direction permanently restraining the civic body adjoining Mumbai from using the said plot for dumping waste.
The petitioners also submitted that the said plot was part of a Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) and thus, protected by statutory and environment rules.
Both the civil judge and the district and additional sessions court concluded that the TMC had been dumping waste in contravention of statutory and CRZ rules on the plot concerned. They thus restrained the TMC from using the plot for waste disposal.
The corporation, however, challenged the order before the HC, arguing the petitioners had failed to serve a notice before filing the suit before the local court.
It also raised a question on the locus standi (their right to appear in court or the capacity under which they could bring the matter before the court), saying since the plot didn't belong either to the NGO, or the two residents, they had no right to file the suit.
Justice Bhatkar, however, took a strong objection to the TMC's arguments.
She said since the matter at hand dealt with general hygiene and the petitioners intended to bring an end to a "public nuisance", they had every right to approach the court.
"This appeal involves the issue of cleanliness and hygiene and therefore, the case demands a different perspective," Justice Bhatkar observed.
"It must be noted that the NGO and the citizens have approached the court against dumping of solid waste by the TMC. Such injunctive (a court-ordered) relief can be sought by citizens even when there is a public nuisance and even if they are not personally being affected by the same," she said.
"When citizens are taking positive steps of taking recourse to litigation for pointing out any nuisance, the corporation and other public bodies should not be hostile and behave like private litigants.
"Instead, they should adopt citizen-friendly service-oriented approach. The people's participation in the local administration and judicial process is necessary in a democracy. It is expected that the corporation handles such issues with an open mind," Justice Bhatkar noted.
The corporation also argued that it had stopped dumping untreated solid waste at the site since 2003. Currently, the said plot was being used to dispose of onlytreated, bio-degradable waste.
However, the HC dismissed the civic body's submissions, pointing out that another petition against the TMC's contravention of solid waste management rules was pending before a division bench of the court.
The fact remained the said plot was being used in "contravention of the rules of solid waste handling and disposal," it observed.
This recurring issue can be put to an end if the corporation voluntarily takes positive and concrete remedial steps. Citizens are compelled to approach courts mostly out of frustration and as a last resort when their problems are notsolved by public bodies," Justice Bhatkar noted.
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