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Gujarat HC invokes collective responsibility to punish 'errant' polluters of Sabarmati

By Rajni Dave*

On September 23, the Gujarat High Court in its interim order cracked down on the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) and industries, directing stringent measures to remedy the Sabarmati river pollution. The High Court invoked the principle of collective responsibility to punish the errant industries in industrial estates, and directed debarring errant industries from participating in any industrial fair, public private partnership events.
The High Court observed that “there should be no discharge of untreated wastewater in the Sabarmati river from either of the outfalls” while referring to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report that had tested Sabarmati river water for pollution levels across various sites in Ahmedabad city recently.
The bench of Justice JB Pardiwala and Justice Vaibhavi Nanavati observed that the public interest litigation (PIL) raising the issue of Sabarmati river pollution “a very important one. It further observed that “it should be a people’s movement” involving every district and every citizen in the river’s catchment area.
Listed as one of India’s 351 critically polluted rivers stretches by CPCB. The High Court is hearing a Suo Motu PIL on the discharge of untreated sewage and industrial effluents in Sabarmati river. On September 16, the High Court set up an eight member Joint Task Force (JTF) to resolve the problem of untreated effluents in the river and for Sabarmati river’s revival-rejuvenation.
Members of JFT are: Prasoon Gargava, Regional Director, Central Pollution Control Board; Dr Deepa Gavali, Director & Secretary, Gujarat Ecology Society; Professor (Dr) Upendra Patel; Rohit Prajapati, Engineer, Researcher and Writer, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti; an AMC official; two GPCB officials; a Torrent Power official; and a police personnel not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
The High Court called upon “a decentralized approach involving every citizen” to save Gujarat’s rivers from pollution. The High Court said “it is very sad to note that rivers are one common pool resource to pollute” while hearing the litigation to check the Sabarmati river pollution by untreated sewage and industrial effluent discharge.
The High Court observed the use of ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ to apply stringent provisions against permitting municipal bodies or industries from polluting rivers. The high court observed that “utter ignorance and carefree attitude towards the environment and maintaining rivers and riversides” led to the alarming situation.
It noted submission of Rohit Prajapati that the stretch of the Sabarmati river in the Ahmedabad city within the Riverfront Project is brimming with stagnant water. The stretch of 120 kms. of the river, before meeting the Arabian Sea, is ‘dead’ and comprises of partially treated industrial effluent and sewage.
The High Court directed the JTF to undertake site visits once rain subsides by October second week for inspection and river water quality tests across various sites and submit its report. The High Court also directed the JTF to inspect “each sewage treatment plant and the common effluent treatment plant(CETP)” and submit a report to the bench. It also directed the JTF to hold a meeting with all the associations/organizations running the existing CETPs.
It directed the AMC to submit the details of industries discharging effluent into the sewerage network to the JTF members latest by October 7.
The High Court directed the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) to provide the JTF with the details of all the associations/ organizations running the existing CETPs and setting up the CETPs, latest by October 7.
High Court favoured Public Trust Doctrine to apply stringent provisions against permitting municipal bodies or industries from polluting rivers
Initiating collective responsibility, the High Court observed that “even if one of the members of a particular association/organization is found guilty, all the members shall have to pay the price for the same.”
The High Court order stated:
“The principle of collective responsibility shall be imposed on the industrial estates and/or industries located within the vicinity of each other. The industrial associations shall take the responsibility for the misdeeds of its members. The illegality committed by one industry shall result into collective penalties such as payments against pollution, i.e. on the principle of ‘polluter pays’, disconnection of the electricity supply in clusters from where the pollution originates, etc.”
The High Court observed that if industrial associations/organizations “fail to overhaul update and maintain its existing CETP at its optimum level, such CETP shall be shut down until the source of release of the untreated effluent is detected.” The court said that, “a time limit shall be prescribed by JTF for ensuring that the CETPs run at the optimum levels.” The next hearing is scheduled on October 21.

Joint task force report

The JTF in its report to the High Court said it would examine the Sabarmati river stretch from Hansol to Vautha on priority basis and make site visits in October once the rain subsides. The JTF recommended increased surveillance on tankers carrying chemicals and hazardous industrial waste by the traffic police to check unauthorized disposal.

AMC affidavit

The AMC in its affidavit in the High Court admitted that industrial effluents are illegally discharged into the city’s sewerage network. It stated that the “illegal industrial discharge into sewerage access points such as manholes or machine-holes at odd hours (such as, in the middle of the night) by using tankers and flexible pipes.” The civic body also reported “reverse boring of industrial discharge or usage of defunct/unused bore-wells or percolation wells to discharge industrial waste directly into the ground.”

GPCB submission

GPCB in its submission stated as per the available record as on September 15, 2021, total number of units in Danilimda and Behrampura are 257 and 285 units respectively. This entire area falls within the territorial domain and jurisdiction of AMC and essentially and principally it is AMC which grants permission regarding discharge to all this industrial units into the drainage network of AMC.
It stated that Karnavati Textile Association, which was granted permission for setting up 130 MLD CETP, has till date not yet commenced the work on the same. It added, the Ahmedabad Hand Screen Printing Association which was allotted permission for setting up 30 MLD CETP, but had completed 70% of its construction and for which AMCis acting as a nodal agency. 
---
*Editor, Bhumiputra

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