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Vadodara authorities allowing debris dumping, sewage disposal in Vishwamitri river

Rohit Prajapati briefing media off Vishwamitri river
Several concerned citizens of Gujarat’s cultural capital, Vadodara, have written a scathing letter to the city’s municipal commissioner, with copies to top environment officials of the state and Central governments, regarding failure to implement the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal orders, especially with respect to existing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) and discharging illegal, untreated raw sewage into the Vishwamitri river, her tributaries, wetlands, and ponds.
The signatories include Rohit Prajapati, Environment Activist, Researcher, and Writer; Sanjay Soni, Field Expert; Krishnakant, Environment Activist; Neha Sarwate, Environmental and Urban Planner; Deepa Gavali, PhD, Wetland Ecologist; Ranjitsinh Devkar, PhD, Zoologist; Shishir R. Raval, PhD, Landscape Architect and Ecological Planner; Jitendra Gavali, PhD, Botanist; Shakti Bhatt, Water Resources Expert; Arjun Singh Mehta, PhD, Biotechnologist; Jayendra Lakhmapurkar, PhD, Hydro-Geologist; Hitarth Pandya, Educationist and Writer; Rutvik Tank, Civil Engineer and Urban Planner; Dhara Patel, Landscape Architect and Architect; Dhrumil Kantharia, Landscape Architect and Mrugen Rathod, Visual Artist.
The letter:
***
For the long-pending rejuvenation of the entire Vishwamitri River and its watershed, it was expected from the concerned authorities to implement the following Orders:
A. Hon’ble National Green Tribunal Order, dated 25.05.2021, O. A. No. 228/2020 (Earlier O.A. No. 49/2016 (WZ)) and Execution Application No. 45/2016 (WZ) (Rohit Prajapati & Anr V/s Secretary, MoEF & CC & Ors.),
B. Hon’ble National Green Tribunal Order, dated 22.02.2021, Principal Bench, Delhi, Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors), AND
C. Hon’ble Supreme Court Order, dated 22.02.2017, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors)We have already conveyed our consolidated representation, to revive the river and maintain its integrity in totality through holistic landscape / ecological planning and site specific landscape and urban designs, based on sound sciences and data through letter dated 07.06.2021.
We would like to put on record that the actions required to be taken by the concerned authorities with respect to the above three Orders have admittedly been still not taken. As per the Hon’ble Supreme Court Order, dated 22.02.2017, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) the existing STPs were required to meet the prescribed norms by May 2017 and new STPs were required to be set up within three years, i.e. February 2020.
It is shocking to note that no serious action has been taken by the concerned authorities to implement the said Order and respond to the various, recurrent Show Cause Notices issued by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB). This has been revealed by the information received under RTI dated 14.02.2022 - “Detailed Report on STPs of Vadodara Municipal Corporation with reference to Polluted River Stretch of River Vishwamitri” and other information related to communications related to the progress - from the GPCB.
The report states the total sewage generation to be 409 MLD based on the assumed (Municipal Supply) water consumption of 490 MLD. This does not account for the unquantified ground water usage by the citizens of the city. According to the Report, there are 9 existing STPs, 3 under construction (102.5 MLD) and 3 in the planning stage (294 MLD). It is pertinent to note that 7 out of the 9 STPs are not meeting the prescribed norms, yet they are allowed to discharge directly into the River. This indicates that as on today, the existing STPs are unable to accommodate the sewage generated by the city and hence safe to assume that currently, a substantial quantity of untreated raw sewage is discharged directly into the river.
Additionally, untreated raw sewage is discharged directly into the Vishwamitri River, that is neither identified nor documented with respect to their specific location, quantity, and quality of discharge. Numerous Show Cause Notices have been issued by the GPCB since 2019 regarding noncompliance and state that “--- to show cause within 15 days from the date of receipt of this show cause notice in view of the noncompliance observed above and why legal action should not be initiated as per the provision of the Acts which may include rejection of your application and suspension / closure of your unit” (STP). Till today, such show cause notices have proven to be futile and routine exercises. Ironically, even the GPCB has not taken action mentioned in their own show cause notices!
We summarize the said Report as:
  • Majority of the STPs do not operate adequately so as to meet with the discharge norm of the River.
  • Performance and the treatability of existing STPs is questionable as the facilities for analysis of basic parameters are either absent or inadequate leading us to question the authenticity of the monitoring records maintained at the STPs.
  • Online monitoring facilities and flow measuring facilities are absent at most locations except Rajivnagar STP and Kapurai new STP.
  • Six major outfalls into the River showing high COD, BOD and FC values indicate that untreated, partially treated sewage is getting directly discharged into the River.
  • Water Quality of the River at various locations indicates unacceptable levels of BOD, COD and FC with the DO as nil.
The said state of affairs indicates a grim picture for the city of Vadodara. Our previous communication has laid out strategies and actions towards the rejuvenation and restoration of the River. Despite various laws, and now 3 major Orders of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal, multiple Show Cause notices, and recommendations, the situation has deteriorated even further.
The Order dated 22.02.2021, Original Application No. 593 of 2017 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors) clearly states:
“21. We may now sum up our directions: -
[…]
(iii) All the Local Bodies and or the concerned departments of the State Government have to ensure 100% treatment of the generated sewage and in default to pay compensation which is to be recovered by the States/UTs, with effect from 01.04.2020. In default of such collection, the States/UTs are liable to pay such compensation. The CPCB is to collect the same and utilize for restoration of the environment.
[…]
37. In view of the above, we are of opinion that the monitoring by the Tribunal cannot be unending and must now be taken over by the concerned authorities. The roadmap stands laid out. Action plans have been prepared for remediation of all the 351 identified polluted river stretches. Gaps have been identified for ETPs/CETPs/STPs (including modular STPs wherever necessary). Timelines are clear. […] Consequences for delay in terms of compensation and administrative measures have been clearly mentioned.
38. […] As per scheme of the NGT Act, every order of NGT is executable as a decree of Civil Court. (27 Section 25 of the NGT Act, 2010 read with Section 51 of the CPC providing for mode of execution which include civil imprisonment.)
Further, failure to comply order of the NGT is an offence punishable with imprisonment upto three years or fine upto Rs. 10 crores with additional fine for continuing offence after conviction. If the offence is by a Government Department, Head of the Department is deemed to be guilty. Cognizance of the offence can be taken by a Court on a complaint of Central Government or any other person who has given notice to the Central Government or its authorized representative. The complaint can be filed before a Court of Magistrate of first class. It is, thus, necessary in view of continuing violation of NGT order, requiring payment of compensation to reiterate the direction of responsibility for payment of compensation, to be of the Chief Secretaries and in default, their liability to be proceeded against for coercive measures for execution or by way of prosecution as per NGT Act, 2010.”

The recent Hon’ble Gujarat High Court Judgment dated 28.01.2022, in Civil Application No. 1 of 2022 in Writ Petition (PIL) No 98 of 2021, clearly states:
74. We may also observe that this litigation is an eye opener for all other major Municipal Corporations across the State of Gujarat. There is not just one Sabarmati River in the State of Gujarat. There are many rivers flowing across the State of Gujarat, which have suffered pollution beyond repairs. Therefore, if the other Municipal Corporations have also not paid attention to what we have observed in this order, then it is high time they start acting in the right direction before it is too late in the day.”
The following are issues that were expected to be acted upon as per Orders, and directions from concerned authorities that have not been addressed so far:
  • Removal of debris from the ravines, ponds, wetlands, and other water entities.
  • Scientific and technical mapping of the Floodplains and identification of all unauthorized structures and dumping sites within the Floodplains. Characterization, quantification, and identification of all legal / illegal sewage discharges.
  • Formulation of the River Restoration Plan and implementation and modification of the River Action Plan.
  • Instead of these ‘constructive’ activities and actions, the VMC continues with debris dumping, turning a blind eye to old and on-going construction activities in the river floodplain and eco-sensitive areas, granting approval and constructions of various new projects in the river floodplain and the eco-sensitive areas, continuing discharge of untreated and ill-treated sewage and ad-hoc interventions in the river. These inactions and unresponsiveness portrays the audacity of the concerned authorities and is testing the patience of the River, her environs, and the people of Vadodara.
Hence, we demand:
  • Immediate Exemplary Action should be taken against the Vadodara Municipal Corporation and the officers for the non-compliance of the environment laws and following Orders:
  • Hon’ble National Green Tribunal Order, dated 25.05.2021, O. A. No. 228/2020 (Earlier O.A. No. 49/2016 (WZ)) and Execution Application No. 45/2016 (WZ) (Rohit Prajapati & Anr V/s Secretary, MoEF & CC & Ors.),
  • Hon’ble National Green Tribunal Order, dated 22.02.2021, Principal Bench, Delhi, Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors), AND
  • Hon’ble Supreme Court Order, dated 22.02.2017, Writ Petition (Civil) No. 375 of 2012 (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors)
  • Environment Compensation should be recovered from Vadodara Municipal Corporation as per Hon’ble National Green Tribunal Order, dated 22.02.2021, Principal Bench, Delhi, Original Application No. 593 of 2017, (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti & Anrs V/s Union of India & Ors)
  • Investigate for thoroughly determining the shortcomings towards the non-implementation and compliance of explicit directions given by various authorities and Orders. Make accountable and prosecute any / all concerned departments / authorities / parties that were and / or are responsible for the degradation of the river system and responsible for disasters by violating above mentioned orders of the courts.
  • Various concerned departments at the State, District and Local Government levels must co-operate, collaborate, and pro-actively participate to address issues mentioned above.
  • Establish and empower an effective, functional, well qualified quasi-governmental / semi statutory authority / task force, that includes subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, botanists, zoologists, wetland specialists, environmental / urban / ecological planners, environmental / civil engineers, landscape architects, waste water specialists, other built environment professionals) as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, related to the various facets of the river system in order to fulfill the above agenda in a proactive, transparent, and accountable manner.
  • Establish a fully functional, effective, and knowledgeable landscape architecture, urban and environmental planning, and urban design departments in the VUDA / VMC that also includes experts from various related fields (such as ecologists, hydro-geologists, environmental engineer, waste water treatment, etc.) to ensure better plans and detailed designs for the city and the entire watershed.
  • No new permissions for demolition, reconstruction, or renovation of old buildings should be allowed till official permits and protocols for demolition are properly devised as well as fully operational recycling and up-cycling plants are well-established. No new construction and infrastructure intervention should be allowed before the completion of the mapping and demarcation of the floodplain zones, appropriate mechanisms for its implementation.
As always, we are still willing to collaborate towards the restoration and rejuvenation of the Vishwamitri River and her environs that can lead to the right kind of brand value and recognition of Vadodara city and our eco-region, nationally and internationally. Such a collective endeavor will also instill a sense of pride for and responsible actions by all citizens throughout the Vishwamitri watershed.
We expect your prompt and positive response in the interest of life, livelihood, and environment.

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