By Rajni Dave *
On September 23, the Gujarat Supreme Court cracked down on the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and industry in its injunction, ordering tough measures to remedy the pollution of the Sabarmati River. The High Court relied on the principle of collective responsibility to punish the misdirected industries in industrial areas and ordered that misdirected industries be banned from attending industrial fairs and public-private partnership events.
The Supreme Court ruled that “none of the outflows of untreated sewage should be discharged into the Sabarmati River,” while referring to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report that the Sabarmati River waters at various locations in Ahmedabad city had recently tested for pollution.
Judge JB Pardiwala and Judge Vaibhavi Nanavati stated that the Public Interest Litigation (PIL), which raises the problem of the pollution of the Sabarmati River, “is very important. It also stated that “it should be a popular movement” involving every district and citizen in the river’s catchment area.
Listed by the CPCB as one of the 351 heavily polluted river sections in India. The High Court is hearing a Suo Motu PIL over the discharge of untreated sewage and industrial sewage into the Sabarmati River. On September 16, the High Court set up an eight-person Joint Task Force (JTF) to resolve the issue of untreated sewage in the river and to revitalize and rejuvenate the Sabarmati River.
JFT members are: Prasoon Gargava, Regional Director, Central Pollution Control Board; Dr. Deepa Gavali, director and secretary, Gujarat Ecology Society; Professor (Dr.) Upendra Patel; Rohit Prajapati, engineer, researcher, and author, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti; an AMC officer; two GPCB officers; a torrent power official; and a police force who is not below the rank of deputy police commissioner.
The High Court called for “a decentralized approach that involves every citizen” to protect Gujarat’s rivers from pollution. The Supreme Court said “It is very sad to note that rivers are a pool resource that is frequently polluted” while hearing the lawsuit to review the pollution of the Sabarmati River by untreated sewage and industrial sewage.
The High Court found that the Public Trust Doctrine was used to enforce stringent regulations against the permission of local authorities or industrial companies to pollute rivers. The Supreme Court found that “total ignorance and carelessness about the environment and the maintenance of rivers and river banks” led to the alarming situation.
It took note of Rohit Prajapati’s statement that the section of the Sabarmati River in the city of Ahmedabad within the Riverfront Project is overflowing with stagnant water. The distance of 120 km. of the river before it flows into the Arabian Sea is “dead” and consists of partially treated industrial sewage and sewage.
The Supreme Court ordered the JTF to conduct on-site visits for inspections and tests of river water quality at various locations after the rain had subsided by the second week of October and to submit its report. The High Court also ordered the JTF to “inspect each wastewater treatment plant and the Common Wastewater Treatment Plant (CETP)” and submit a report to the bank. It also directed the JTF to hold a meeting with all of the federations / organizations running the existing CETPs.
It directed the AMC to provide JTF members with details of the industries discharging sewage into the sewer system by October 7th at the latest.
The High Court ordered the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to provide the JTF with details of all associations / organizations that operate and establish the CETPs by October 7th at the latest.
The High Court advocated the Public Trust Doctrine to apply strict provisions against allowing local corporations or industries to pollute rivers
The High Court instituted collective responsibility, stating that “even if one of the members of a particular association / organization is found guilty, all members must pay the price”.
The order of the High Court read:
“The principle of collective responsibility is imposed on nearby business parks and / or industries. The business associations are responsible for the misconduct of their members. The illegality committed by an industry leads to collective sanctions such as payments against pollution, ie according to the polluter pays principle, switching off the electricity supply in clusters from which the pollution originates, etc. “
The High Court found that if industry associations / organizations “fail to update their existing CETP and keep it at optimal levels, that CETP must be closed until the source of the untreated wastewater release is discovered”. The court said that “JTF has set a deadline to ensure that CETPs are operating at their optimal levels.” The next hearing is scheduled for October 21.
Joint Task Force Report
The JTF said in its report to the Supreme Court that it will give priority to investigating the Sabarmati stretch of river from Hansol to Vautha and will conduct site visits in October after the rain has subsided. The JTF recommended increased monitoring of tankers carrying chemicals and hazardous industrial waste by the traffic police to check for unauthorized disposal.
The AMC acknowledged in its affidavit in the High Court that industrial sewage is being illegally discharged into the city’s sewer system. It states that the “illegal industrial discharge into sewer access points such as manholes or machine holes at odd times (such as in the middle of the night) takes place through the use of tankers and flexible pipes”. The citizens’ authority also reported on “back-drilling of industrial sewage or the use of closed / unused boreholes or infiltration wells to drain industrial waste directly into the ground”.
GPCB stated in its filing, according to the available dataset dated September 15, 2021, that the total number of units in Danilimda and Behrampura are 257 and 285 units, respectively. This entire area falls within the territorial scope and jurisdiction of AMC and, essentially and primarily, it is AMC which authorizes all of these industrial units to be discharged into AMC’s drainage network.
It states that the Karnavati Textile Association, which has been given approval to set up 130 MLD CETP, has not yet started work on it. It added the Ahmedabad Hand Screen Printing Association, which has had permission to set up 30 MLD CETPs but has completed 70% of the construction and is acting as a hub for the AMC.
* Editor, Bhumiputra