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Activists welcome NGT’s directive to release water into Yamuna

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Agra/Mathura: The National Green Tribunal’s directive to the Haryana government to release 10 cumecs (cubic meters per second) of water into the Yamuna river from Hathini Kund barrage was welcomed by the region’s environmentalists and NGO activists.

Though the quantity ordered to be released was not much, at least a beginning had been made, it was pointed out.

While monitoring the implementation of ‘Maili se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalisation Project’, NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar on Thursday took the Haryana government to task for “dragging its feet” in the implementation of earlier Supreme Court and NGT decisions to release water in the Yamuna.

The governments of UP, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh were also directed to interact with an official panel led by Shashi Shekhar to sort out the issue of minimal release of water in the Yamuna.

The committee was formed in January 2015, and comprises secretaries of environment and water resources ministries, state government secretaries of related departments, commissioners of different municipal corporations and vice chairman of Delhi Development Authority.

“Though not much in terms of quantity, but at least a beginning has been made,” said Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of the ‘Friends of Vrindavan’.

Braj Bachao Samiti members welcomed the move and wanted more water to be released for downstream cities, which was allegedly diverted by the Haryana government through the Hathini Kund barrage for irrigation.

“A minimal flow was required to maintain the river’s ecology. The acquatic life in the river too needed minimum water for survival,” said Shravan Kumar Singh of ‘Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society’ in Agra.

Pointing out that release of water in the Yamuna was one of the main demands of the ‘Yamuna Muktikaran Abhiyan’, its convener Radha Krishan Shastri said that the NGT was doing a “good job”.

“It is an important decision,” he quipped.

Jai Krishan Das, national convener of ‘Yamuna Rakshak Dal’ said that the NGT order provided a “ray of hope” for those who wanted the river to thrive.

Meanwhile, Rhais Qureshi of ‘Braj Bachao Samiti’ said that the 40 to 50 ponds had been cleaned in the district and filled with canal water, which was good news for water availability in the area.

Divisional Commissioner Pradip Bhatnagar also formally launched a pipeline project to bring the Ganges waters to the Yamuna.

The project – with a completion deadline of December 2017 – will benefit both Mathura and Agra, officials said. (IANS)

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Holy Dip in Garbage Floating Ganges River: A big Cause of Concern for Hindus

The pristine waters of the Ganges river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it

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A pile of garbage lies on the riverbank along the Ganges riverfront known as "Har ki Pauri," the most sacred spot in the Hindu holy town of Haridwar where devotees throng. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

On a gray monsoon morning, Darshana Kapoor picks her way gingerly through the slush on the riverbank after taking a dip in the Ganges River in Haridwar town, one of the most revered spots for Hindus.

But the ritual bath that Hindus believe absolves a lifetime of sins was not an uplifting experience for her. “My faith brought me here, but when I see the garbage floating in the river, I felt so bad. I had to scrub myself,” she said.

Haridwar, India

She was not exaggerating. The Central Pollution Control Board has said that the water of the Ganges at Haridwar is not fit for bathing.

The murky condition of the mighty Ganges is a letdown for thousands of devotees who flock daily to the pilgrim town, some for a ritual dip, some to immerse the ashes of their loved ones or to take part in a colorful prayer ceremony held every evening to celebrate the Ganges, which devotees call “Maa” or mother.

Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds of Hindus take a ritual dip in the Ganges at Haridwar believing it absolves a lifetime of sins. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

These devotees were hoping to see results from a flagship $3 billion initiative launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to revive the river, particularly in Hinduism’s holiest towns such as Haridwar and Varanasi.

The pristine waters of the river as it gushes down the Himalayas have long turned into a toxic sludge due to garbage, untreated sewage and industrial waste dumped into it as it courses through booming pilgrim and industrial towns along the vast, populous plains of North India. It is a huge concern because the river is a water source for some 400 million people.

After his victory in 2014, Modi had acknowledged the failure of an expensive three-decade long effort to rejuvenate the Ganges, and vowed to succeed where his predecessors did not.

But three years after the Hindu nationalist leader’s pledge, the once-mighty river is still dying, say environmental activists.

India’s top environmental court, the National Green Tribunal, slammed the government in July, saying “the status of river Ganga has not improved in terms of quality and it continues to be a serious environmental issue.”

The court prohibited dumping waste within 500 meters of the river and said that no development should be allowed within 100 meters of the river as it flows along a 500-kilometer stretch from Haridwar to the town of Unnao.

Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Hundreds gather to witness a colourful prayer ceremony held along the Ganges River in Haridwar every evening. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

That is crucial to revive not just the river, but also the banks or “ghats” in pilgrim towns where visitors throng.

However, in a country with abysmally poor enforcement, environmentalists point out court orders do not always translate into action on the ground.

“The basic problem in this country and this case also is compliance,” says M.C. Mehta, an environmentalist who has been leading a campaign to get rid of the pollution. “No monitoring mechanism is there, so it is very difficult to say how much directions have been complied with.”

The main challenge is the slow pace of setting up treatment plants – about three-quarters of the sewage generated in the towns and cities in the northern plains flows untreated into the Ganges.

Sewage treatment plants in Haridwar, for example, can only cope with half the sewage. New ones have been planned, but none have been built yet.

In fact, some fear the river is becoming dirtier as India’s growing population and economic boom has meant an ever growing influx into towns like Haridwar.

Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)
Shopkeeper Ganesh Singh in Haridwar says efforts are being made to educate people about not throwing plastic and other waste in the river or along its banks. (A. Pasricha/VOA)

Ganesh Singh owns a shop at the famed “Har ki Pauri,” the most revered spot along the riverbank where people gather to attend the evening prayer, where the poor line up for free meals offered by devotees and where pavement sellers hawk flowers.

He said there have been efforts to educate the people about not dumping waste into the river. “Many polythene bags, bottles, garbage used to be thrown into the river earlier. It is better now,” he said, gazing at the river, happy that it helps draw in more tourists who bring more business.

However just a few meters down from his shop, piles of rubbish dumped along the riverbank are getting slowly washed into the water with the rain.

That is why Mehta remains skeptical and worries the political will for the gigantic task is missing. “I am not talking about this leadership – it is for the last 32 years the same thing is going on,” he said. “It should not be just lip service that we are the sons and daughters of mother Ganga, without doing something.”

In a signal that he is aware the Ganges cleanup is flagging, Modi this month handed charge of the campaign to a senior cabinet minister, Nitin Gadkari, who has a reputation for getting the job done.

Devotees and environmentalists are hoping that will happen. (VOA)

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How Are Restaurants Operating Without Permit? Asks High Court: 19 Hauz Khas Village Eateries in Delhi Lose Licence

Restaurants in HKV lack security and fire safety mechanisms. Delhi High Court has thus ordered probe to answer how these establishments have been running without permit.

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Hauz khas village
The Delhi High Court believes unlawful construction of restaurants in HKV is a very serious issue, involving “valuable rights of the people". Wikimedia
  • Hauz Khas village has come under the scanner of the Delhi High Court for ‘unlawful existence’ and operation of restaurants without obtaining mandatory permits
  • According to PILs, restaurants cramp the narrow lanes of HKV without proper security and fire safety mechanisms in place
  • Licenses of 19 restaurants have been revoked by the SDMC 

New Delhi, August 23, 2017: With the wave of pop-culture that has come up in Delhi in the last few years, Hauz Khas village in south Delhi has emerged as the hub of ‘alternate culture’. While the ‘village’ remains comfortably filled during the weekdays, it gets crowded beyond measure over the weekends. There are usually long queues of cars and people waiting to enter HKV (as it is popularly known) that is home to a number of state-of-the art cafes, eateries and designer boutiques.

Hauz Khas village is not only famous its enviable list of establishments, but also for the number of cases that have previously been filed against the popular hub.

Hauz Khaz vilage has previously been in news for the following reasons-

September 2013: 34 restaurants were shut down for four days upon orders from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for violating environmental flaws, following which they were conditionally allowed to operate on promise of upholding the laws.

August 2016: A ‘minor fire’ in the urban hub killed an Indian businessman and injured a French woman, bringing to light the poor safety standards and remedial mechanisms in the place.

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February 2017: a 26-year old was allegedly sexually assaulted in the wee hours of the morning after a night of partying in HKV. A series of similar incidents have remained common to the area.

July 2017: The village came in news when the police decided to ban the Tuesday-Wednesday ladies’ night in the area to keep law and order in place and avoid possible cases of sexual assault or violence. While the ban was never imposed, security arrangements in the area were strengthened.

The cramped, neon-lit streets and cafes of this urbanized village have once again come under the radar of the Delhi High Court now for illegal constructions and encroachments.

Following the hearing of PILs alleging “unlawful existence” of eateries in the village, a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar made an oral observation saying the court is to protect and upload “the life and personal liberty of every person in the city.”

The bench’s observation came following the hearing of petitions filed by social activist Pankaj Sharma and advocate Anuja Kapur.

According to the petition filed by Sharma, the village is a host to 120 eateries and pubs, most of which have been illegally constructed in the absence of an approval of their building plans from the South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC). Alternatively, the plea by advocate Anuja Kapur claims that these restaurants and bars are additionally violating the law as they continue to operate without a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the required authorities including the fire department.

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Kapur in her plea to the High Court had also raised allegations against the police claiming that no officer can be spotted in the village which gives various business owners an opportunity to indulge in ‘illegal activities’, which she believes are done with support from the local police.

Hauz Khas village is a popular commercial hub in the city and has a footfall of around 5,000 during weekdays which escalates to over 15,000 during the weekends.

Thus, the petitioners had also raised objections towards the risks to security and fire hazard in the village and asserted that the cramped location jam-packed with enormous crowd furthers the threat by making it impossible for ambulances and fire trucks to enter the area in case of emergencies.

It was revealed before the bench on August 22 that there is only one entry and exit in the village to allow the movement of fire tending vehicles.

Fire chief GC Mishra in his interview to the Indian Express in early August had asserted that the place is very congested for a city that ranks at level 4 of earthquake risk. “There is complete disregard towards the stability of the structure. Also, the access road is very narrow. How do I take my vehicles there?” he had said.

Previously, the High Court in May had issued a notice to the Centre, Delhi government, Delhi Police and SDMC to ensure strict enforcement of the law in the village and provide the court with a detailed account of the exact number of restaurants operating illegally.

Responding to the Court’s order, the Corporation revealed that they have issued notices of closure to 19 restaurant owners who do not possess the obligatory clearances. According to the report, “Nine licenses (have been revoked) for running the restaurants with more than the permitted number of seats and 10 licenses for running their trade on roads that don’t meet norms.”

The bench said during the hearing that this is a very serious issue, involving “valuable rights of the people”, according to a report by PTI.

Following the PILs the bench has asked authorities to file a status report explaining how these enterprises are running without a permit.

The SDMC has been directed to supplement the court with a detailed site-plan of the village clearly stating the location of different properties sprawled across the village along with the permissible property usage of Delhi as explained in the master plan of the city.

The bench has also asked the petitioners and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi to undertake detailed inspection of the place and inform the court about the width of the only road that runs through the area.

The bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar further asserted that any decision would be taken keeping the right of owners to undertake business activities, as guaranteed in the Indian Constitution, in mind.

However, the rights shall be considered “only if one has complied with the building bye-laws and the master plan. Violators will have to go,” the bench added.

The case is scheduled to have a further hearing on September 5.



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Trees worth Rs 742 Crore to be Cut for Building Metro-3 Car Shed in Mumbai

MMRC is building a Metro-3 car shed.

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3310 trees to be cut for making metro car shed.
3310 trees to be cut for making metro car shed.Wikimedia
  • MMRC is going to build a Metro car shed
  • It is estimated that 3310 trees will have to be cut to build the car depot
  • The estimated costs of the 3310 trees is Rs.742 crore

Mumbai, June 30, 2017: A Metro car shed is to be built at Aarey in the financial capital of the nation and it is estimated that 3310 tress will have to be cut to achieve the objective.

The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation (MMRC) has signed contract with the Delhi-based construction company Sam (India) Builtwell Pvt. Ltd. to build a car depot which will be designed for 35 rakes of eight-car trains across 25 hectares.

The total cost of construction is expected to be Rs. 328 crores but the number will take a huge hike when the total cost of 3310 trees that will be cut to complete the project is added to it.

Earlier the forest minister had tweeted that the ‘socio-economic’ value of a tree is Rs23.72 lakh a year. Taking that as the base, the tree conservationists in Mumbai have estimated the cost of these 3310 trees to be a huge Rs. 742 crore, almost double of the construction cost.

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“If we go by the average that a healthy tree can provide oxygen for 30 years, the loss would escalate to Rs22,000 crore. The estimated cost of Metro-3 is Rs23,136 crore. So there is no benefit,” said Stalin D from Vanashakti.

He added, “Additionally, the MMRC has not submitted the details regarding permissions for work at the 3-hectare casting yard land or any other permissions from the state pollution board, civic body, land-use, among others.”

Sudhir Mungantiwar, a BJP leader, tweeted on thursday, “Humans fail to recognise the value of trees. Trees absorb, block noise and reduce glare from the sun. A well placed tree can reduce noise by 40%. We have asked MMRC to plant 100 times more trees than the trees they have cut.”

Vanashakti, an environmental NGO has accused that the MMRC has gone ahead with the work at Aarey without waiting for a final order from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) where the matter is still being heard.

Last year, Vanashakti had filed a petition along with Aarey Conservation Group to consider Aarey landscape as a forest and maintain it as no-development zone whose hearing will be held on July 24.

According to the activists, Aarey is a real-estate gold mine. Zoru Bathena, Khar resident and activist said, ”it is clearly a real estate project for the authorities. They are getting Rs13,000 crore as 50-year interest loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The amount will ultimately have to be paid by citizens.”

MMRC is refusing any loss of trees or their value. They also made it clear that they are not bound by NGT to start the construction of the depot. “There is no stay on Metro depot construction activity from NGT,” said an MMRC spokesperson.

– by Nikita Tayal of NewsGram. Twitter: @NikitaTayal6