Stop demolitions, tree felling, dumping of debris, discharge of sewage, etc. in Vishwamitri river

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By Rohit Prapajati et al*

The Vadodara Municipal Corporation is allowing demolition, tree felling and clearing of vegetation, dumping of debris, discharge of sewage, dredging, digging, filling, levelling, construction, etc. activities along / in / around the Vishwamitri River and its environs (banks, ravines, tributaries, etc.).

To bring to your notice, the following work / works / acts and activities were and are still ongoing currently in and around the Vishwamitri River (VRDP area) and its environs (banks, ravines, tributaries, etc.). All such work / works / acts and activities are in blatant violation of Environment laws.

  1. Pre-construction activity (like clearing of vegetation and making an access path for the widening of Kala Ghoda Bridge) near and under Kala Ghoda Bridge inside Vishwamitri River.
  2. Dumping and levelling activities between Kala Ghoda bridge and Yavteshwar Mahadev Temple.
  3. Very recent illegal dumping activities of debris at Kala Ghoda Bridge near Yavteshwar Mahadev Temple on 24 December 2017 at around 10.20 am.
  4. Discharge of illegal untreated sewage discharge near and besides Bhimnath Bridge.
  5. Removing vegetation on both banks of the Bahucharaji Nala and other works and activities such as levelling and filling of the Nala and its environs.
  6. Dumping of debris along the River bank on both sides of the Bhimnath Bridge and Fast Track Court.

It is very apparent that all the above mentioned activities are in deliberate violation of the Orders mentioned below:

  1. Order dated 25.05.2016 of the National Green Tribunal in Application 49 of 2016 (Rohit Prajapati and Anr V/s Secretary MoEFCC & Ors).

“The Applicants claim to be pro-bon environmentalists and claim they are social workers. Through this Application they have questioned illegal activity of the Government instrumentality i.e. Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) which is said to be proceeding with a project damaging river and its tributaries.

vadodara1First Respondent – Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), 2nd Respondent- Chief Secretary, State of Gujarat, 3rd Respondent- the Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department, 4th Respondent – the Member Secretary, State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), 5th Respondent – the Collector, Vadodara, 6th Respondent- the Municipal Commissioner, Vadodara Municipal Corporation and 7th Respondent- Vadodara Urban Development Authority, are duly served.

Learned Counsel Mr. Parth Bhatt represent the Respondent No. 2 – Chief Secretary, State of Gujarat, 3rd Respondent- the Principal Secretary, Urban Development and Urban Housing Department and the Collector as well. Supriya Dangare learned Counsel represents Respondent No. 6 – Project Proponent (PP).

Applicant’s Counsel seeks interim order to restrain VMC from proceeding with the project on assertion that it has not obtained Environmental Clearance (EC) and there is no consent under law. She relied on several documents, including photographs depicting situation as it is at the time of filing of this Application. It is seen from photographs and other material that construction activity is in the area of Vishwamitri River. The said project being implemented is Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP) and in the process the VMC is alleged to be demolishing the river and its tributaries. It is carrying on work of demolition, dredging, digging, filling, levelling of the land.

The Applicant submits on verification they find the PP has no consent, no EC to proceed with the construction.

Learned Counsel representing Respondent No.6 now disputes that VMC – PP has not obtained the EC. Her contention is it has applied for grant of EC which is in process of consideration by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC). She refers to communication dated 16.2.2016 and 17.11.2015 (Annexure – 2) which shows the SEAC is examining the project and is likely to issue EC. Learned Counsel for PP therefore, opposes grant of any interim order.

On perusal of allegations in the Application and submission of PP Respondent No. 6, that they do not have EC prima facie establishes that any construction activity especially in an area which is River and Riverbed and also its tributaries is wholly impermissible. We have satisfied there is prima facie case made out by the Applicant to restrain any construction activity affecting Vishwamitri River and its tributaries.

On behalf of State of Gujarat, it is urged that the project of VRDP has two and three parts. Second part is not covered under the provisions of Environmental Laws requiring EC. The PP is proceeding with that part of the project and therefore, it may not be rightly stating that construction activity will not cause damage. Though such submission is made on behalf of Respondent Nos. 1 and 4, on verification we find that the State has appointed SEAC, who is examining the proposal for grant of EC, but no final decision has yet been taken. It is not impugned on record to show that the present construction activity does not require any EC or ECs or consent.

At this stage, Supriya Dangare representing the PP submits the Tribunal may give her sufficient time to oppose interim relief by written counter. This request is unreasonable for the reason we had already made it clear on the last hearing that we are not granting interim relief till Respondents file their response. Despite that the PP has not filed counter/reply.

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On perusal of records, it is seen the photographs show that the Respondent No. 6 is proceeding with construction activity in blatant violation of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Notifications issued the reunder particularly Notification in 1994/2006, it has commenced construction activity more than a year ago without obtaining prior EC and he has continued such illegal activities. It is also admitted that they have applied for EC only after starting construction, which show their conduct of defiance to mandatory law requiring EC. In the circumstances, even if the PP gets ex post facto EC, we got to examine whether grant of EC was justified especially in view clear photographs which show that its construction activity is virtually destroying River Vishwamitri and its tributaries. Hence, interim order.

ORDER

  1. The Respondent No.6 is hereby restrained from proceeding further with any construction or development activity within the area of Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project (VRDP).
  2. Liberty to Respondents to seek modification of this order is reserved.
  3. The Respondents shall file their counter/reply and complete their pleadings within next four (4) weeks.

List it on 1st July, 2016.”

  1. Secretary, State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) in its Order dated 8 August 2016 clearly states:

Withdrawal Application, dated 05.08.2016, filed by the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, for withdrawal of the Environmental Clearance application in respect of VRDP project was accepted by the SEIAA with the following restrictions,

“…SEIAA hereby permits the withdrawal of the Application No. SIA/GJ/NCP/4584/2015, dated 14.12.2015, with following conditions:

The Vadodara Municipal Corporation shall maintain status quo and shall not carry out any further construction and development enabling activities within the area of Vishwamitri Riverfront Development Project until and unless the prior Environmental Clearance is obtained for the said project.”

  1. It is also in violation of the High Court Order of Gujarat, dated 02.08.2002, in SCA No. 19621/2000, which clearly states:

“Care will be taken that water bodies are not converted to any other use in the town planning schemes / development plans that may be made hereafter and the Local Authorities and the Area development Authorities will be instructed to ensure that no debris of buildings is dumped by any person or institution in the existing water bodies”.

Furthermore, these works and activities are in complete violation under the provisions of the following environmental statutes:

  1. The Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972
  2. Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 under the Environment (Protection) Act 1986
  3. The Environment (Protection) Act 1986
  4. The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010
  5. The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016
  6. The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016

Now, with all of the above mentioned activities and similar, continuous and ongoing activities in the VRDP area, we urge the Municipal Commissioner of Vadodara Municipal Corporation to immediately stop all such activities.

We urge the concerned authorities to prosecute any / all concerned departments / authorities / parties that are engaged in the above stated illegal activities.

Not doing so is in violation of the Environment laws and all concerned authorities, departments, and parties may have to face legal action.

We look forward to your positive response and immediate action to protect, restore, and nurture the environment.

*Letter sent by prominent experts of Vadodara to the municipal commissioner, Vadodara Municipal Corporation; secretary, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change; principal secretary, Gujarat Urban Development and Urban Housing Department; member secretary, Gujarat State Environment Impact Assessment Authority; district collector, Vadodara; among others

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