UP Govt's Policy to Let Firms Destroy Ponds, Canals on 'Condition' Quashed by Supreme Court
The NGT, in its order of March 6, relied upon an affidavit by the Greater Noida Authority that a bigger alternative pond was being developed and proceeded to wrap up the case.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court has quashed the 2016 policy of the Uttar Pradesh government, which permitted private industrialists to take over and destroy local ponds and canals on the condition of developing alternative water bodies elsewhere.
"Schemes which extinguish local water bodies albeit with alternatives, as provided in the 2016 Government Order by the State of UP, are violative of Constitutional principles and are liable to be struck down," held a bench by Justices Arun Mishra and Surya Kant.
The top court noted that the state government's scheme of allowing destruction of existing water bodies and providing for replacements exhibits a mechanical application of environmental protection.
"Although it might be possible to superficially replicate a water body elsewhere, however, there is no guarantee that the adverse effect of destroying the earlier one would be offset...the local environment would be altered permanently," said the bench.
It underscored that "reduction of the complex and cascading effects of extinguishing natural water bodies into mere numbers and their attempt to justify the same through replacement by geographically larger artificial water bodies, fails to capture the spirit of the Constitutional scheme and is, therefore, impermissible."
The Court said that such acts would kill the vegetation around water bodies, will also affect the water table apart from making many animals and marine organisms present in the earlier site would perish, and wouldn’t resuscitate by merely filling a hole with water elsewhere.
The judgment came on an appeal filed by lawyer-environmentalist Jitendra Singh against the order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) over allotment of local ponds to private industrialists.
A resident of Saini village in UP's Greater Noida, Singh had complained in the NGT after agents of M/s Sharp Enterprises sought to take possession of a local pond, using excavators and other heavy machineries.
He pointed out that local water bodies vested with gram sabhas and hence the Greater Noida Authority could not have allotted these water bodies to private industrialists, including Sharp.
Singh contended that neither the mandatory environmental clearances under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1984 had been obtained by the industrialists nor the statutory authorities applied their mind that the project would negatively impact the environment and human health.
But the NGT, in its order of March 6, relied upon an affidavit by the Greater Noida Authority that a bigger alternative pond was being developed and proceeded to wrap up Singh's case.
The Supreme Court, however, found merit in Singh's submissions that despite replication and relocation of water bodies, it is nearly impossible to set off all the damages caused due to such acts, besides affecting the life of people around such water bodies.
The bench also noted that Sharp sought to avail the benefit of the 2016 policy even though the land was allotted to the company in 2012.
It rejected the Authority's argument that the spot in question was a ‘slightly sloped seasonal rainfall catchment area’ and not a ‘pond’, after relying upon the photographs of the water body and revenue records.
"Water bodies, specifically, are an important source of fishery and much needed potable water. Many areas of this country perennially face a water crisis and access to drinking water is woefully inadequate for most Indians. Allowing such invaluable community resources to be taken over by a few is hence grossly illegal," maintained the bench.
It also directed the Greater Noida Authority to restore, maintain and protect the subject water bodies in Singh's village Saini, and gave them three months to remove all all obstructions from the catchment area through which natural water accumulates in the village ponds.
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