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The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has the power to take suo motu cognizance - on the basis of letters, representations, and media reports -- and can initiate proceedings on its own on issues pertaining to the environment.
A bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Hrishikesh Roy, and C.T. Ravikumar delivered the judgment on a batch of petitions which raised the issue of whether the NGT has suo motu jurisdiction.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh had argued that the NGT has been conferred powers to pass orders for the restitution of the environment, hence it can exercise suo motu powers. However, a battery of senior advocates opposed his arguments, stating that only constitutional courts can exercise suo motu powers and a statutory tribunal like the NGT has to act within the confines of its parent law.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, representing the Centre, held that the NGT does not have the power to take cognizance of a matter on its own. But she also contended that the tribunal's powers cannot be bound by procedural constraints.
"This is a peculiar tribunal dealing with environmental matters. Often, the environment ends up being nobody's baby," she said.
The bench had queried her that if the tribunal were to receive a piece of information in connection with the environment, will it not be duty-bound to initiate the process? The ASG responded that once a letter or communication is received by the tribunal, it is within its power to take cognizance of it.
On September 8, the bench had reserved a verdict on the issue. Senior advocate Anand Grover, amicus curiae in the case, had opined that the NGT cannot exercise suo motu powers on the basis of letters, representations, or media reports. (IANS/JB)
Keywords: National Green Tribunal, India, Supreme Court, Environment, Suo Motu Powers.
The construction frenzy being witnessed all over the Braj Mandal (Sri Krishna-Radha Land) that annually draws millions of devout ‘bhakts’ and pilgrims, is destroying the essential pastoral character of the area. Green activists are sore over the concretization of pathways, laying of roads on the conventional ‘parikrama’ routes in Govardhan and Vrindavan, the rising structures and hordes of new temples and ashrams with modern amenities that have come up all over fouling the pristine glory of the holy land.
The mandarins in the Mathura-Vrindavan Development Authority (MVDA) and the Teerth Vikas Parishad, are being accused of destroying the original ambiance of the Braj, which was covered by dense forests, mangroves, ponds, and streams. The questionable penchant for the so-called up-gradation and modernization of amenities has vitiated the flavor and vibes that emanated from the landscape, reflects the lack of long-term vision and commitment to conserve the essential heritage character of the Braj Mandal, revered by millions of Sri Krishna bhakts globally.
The twin cities of Mathura and Vrindavan are on a development spree. Old temples, dharamshalas, and community halls are making way for high-rise buildings and commercial complexes. Vrindavan alone has a dozen tall multi-storeyed buildings. “In the past decade there has been so much concrete construction in Vrindavan, that you hardly find any green space left,” lamented Jagan Nath Poddar, convener of Friends of Vrindavan, an NGO engaged in conserving the natural heritage values of the holy town.
Mathura traffic movement is chaotic, the sewage system doesn’t work, encroachments dwarf the heritage temples and havelis, the ghats are poorly maintained, the lush green clusters are turning grey and brown with modern structures, the holy kunds (ponds) are struggling to survive. The original flavor of Braj culture is dying a slow but sure death, feel the locals.
“The development efforts are in bits and pieces, ad hoc, sporadic, and lacking in a grand vision. The MVDA babus have never heard of heritage ambiance or architectural compatibility,” rues author-activist Dr. Ashok Bansal. The city seems to live in three different ages from the stone age to the 21st century; the ancient, the medieval, and the so-called modern. The distortions are clearly visible, as the soul of Braj culture is missing, Bansal said.
Conservationists are particularly angry at the utter lack of sensitivity to the historic architectural compatibility in new structures being built in Vrindavan that each day draws thousands from all over the world. Many also wonder about the utility of the proposed skyscraper temple of Sri Krishna which will put additional pressure on water and power resources and only “defile the rustic-pastoral ambiance basic to Sri Krishna lore.
Two years ago, the National Green Tribunal had directed that concrete structures in the name of development should not be allowed within the Braj area and certainly not 100 meters on both sides of the parikrama route. “They now want to ferry pilgrims in a chopper and buy plush bungalows that would shame five-star hotels in comforts,” said green activist Pavan Gautam.
Actually, the pilgrims who spend so much money and time come to see and be part of our rich cultural-religious and architectural heritage and not the ghettos or the box-type concrete jungles that are mushrooming everywhere so thoughtlessly. It’s not just Mathura but the entire Braj area, Gokul, Vrindavan, Govardhan where you see concrete jungles replacing old grand heritage structures. The ghats on the river Yamuna have disappeared, even the green mangroves of Sri Krishna have vanished.
Architectural monstrosities, haphazard urban planning, disorganized traffic movement along the main roads due to the increasing number of encroachments, lack of pattern, and thinking are self-evident, says conservationist Rajiv Saxena. “In the name of beautification, obstructions are being installed at road crossings.
Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society says, “For Braj mandal as a distinct cultural entity, there was a crying need for an Urban Arts Panel to guide and advise town planners how to retain the pristine purity of the original Braj flavor. In Braj poetry the narrow lanes ..the kunj galies of Vrindavan, find special romantic descriptions. Instead of preserving the heritage, they want to bypass and destroy the originality.”
The holy towns around Mathura: Gokul, Vrindavan, Barsana, Nandgaon, Govardhan, all need action plans to prevent garbage accumulation, movement of stray animals, for control of simian nuisance, to streamline traffic movement and tapping of drains into the river Yamuna. Unfortunately, neither the popular MP cine star Hema Malini nor the young and dynamic minister in the Yogi Adityanath government Sri Kant Sharma, have been able to give a sense of direction or vision to the development plans. (IANS/JC)
The National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication on Sunday welcomed the direction of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to lay down guidelines for disposal of cigarette and bidi butts within three months.
In a statement issued on Sunday, Secretary of the anti-tobacco organisation, Goa-based oncologist Shekhar Salkar said that the step taken by the NGT was “pathbreaking” and in sync with healthy and sustainable environment practices.
“It’s one of the path-breaking steps taken by the NGT to have a healthy and sustainable environment for posterity. It has also been seen, how these tobacco in take is not only affecting the health of millions across the world, but also the cigarette and bidi butts making our forests and water-bodies polluted,” Salkar said.
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Last week, after a report was compiled by the CPCB related to pollution caused by unscientific disposal of cigarette and bidi ends, the Tribunal had directed the Board to formulate guidelines for scientific disposal of cigarette and bidi ends within a period of three months.
Cigarette and bidi butts are known to contain cellulose acetate, a form of plastic in the filter which is used to filter toxins before the smoke hits the lungs.
“We feel government should also take cognizance of the various tobacco companies and impose Cess on them to reimburse the expense of disposing off these hazardous cigarette and bidi butts,” Salkar also said. (IANS)
Haridwar, Sep 13, 2017: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)