In a major victory for environmentalists and residents of Thane district, the National Green Tribunal has directed the state and local industries to take concrete steps to prevent the pollution of the Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers. In fact, no new industrial units will be allowed, neither will expansion of existing units, until measures are taken to protect the rivers that provide drinking water to thousands in the district.
Taking cognisance of the widespread pollution of the rivers in its judgment on July 2 (in a petition filed by Mumbai-based environment non-profit group Vanashakti Public Trust), the tribunal asked local industries in Dombivli and Ambernath to shell out Rs 30 crore and Rs 15 crore respectively, for the restitution and restoration of treatment plants for effluents in their respective influence areas. “There is no escape from the conclusion that the industries are liable to pay damages caused due to the water pollution, restore the environment and ensure that there shall be no further pollution in the river Ulhas due to discharging of industrial effluents from the units run by the industries,” said the bench, comprising Justice V R Kingaonkar and Dr Ajay A Deshpande. Apart from industries, the tribunal also found the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) falling short on its duty to treat industrial waste in the area.
The petitioners told the bench that although MIDC had provided Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) in areas such as Ambernath, Dombivli, Badlapur etc, these were either inadequate or not operated efficiently, resulting in the discharge of large quantities of effluents in the water. MIDC has been asked to commission the effluent disposal systems within 24 months, and submit a bank guarantee of R10 crore to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to ensure compliance. MPCB will also oversee the work to repair and enhance the capacity of the treatment plants. Even local municipal corporations were pulled up for flouting pollution control norms and dumping untreated sewage in the rivers, and will now have to spend huge amounts to fix their blunder.
The Ulhasnagar and Kalyan-Dombivli corporations have been asked to deposit R15 crore each with the divisional commissioner for restoration and restitution measures. The Kulgaon-Badlapur and Ambernath municipal councils shall also pay Rs 5 crore each. The parties responsible will have to cough up the required money in six weeks, after which it will be used on sewage treatment plants and to clean Ulhas and Waldhuni rivers within 18 months. “The Divisional Commissioner shall use this amount for the implementation of scientific programmes to clean the rivers and ensure that no further riverine pollution occurs hereafter, as well as on restoration and remedial measures like the removal of sludge accumulated in the river and the beautification of river banks, in order to protect the river from any unauthorised dumping of wastes,” said the judgement, which also recommended that legal action be taken against the errant civic bodies.