A four-judge bench of the National Green Tribunal has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to furnish a Rs 5 crore compliance bond for failure of the state authorities to redress deadly health hazards faced by residents in villages lying along the Hindon river.
Hearing a case filed by NGO Doaba Paryavaran Samiti through its advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal on March 15, the NGT bench, led by Justice AK Goel, observed that the Uttar Pradesh government had failed to comply with its previous orders.
It stated in its order, "In view of serious failure of the State of Uttar Pradesh so far and alarming situation of pollution of the River, affecting public health, we find it necessary to require furnishing of performance guarantee in the sum of Rs. 5 crores to the satisfaction of the CPCB by the State of Uttar Pradesh to the effect that action plan will be implemented within six months from today.
"On failure, the amount will be forfeited," said the top green court of the country, as it gave a six month time period to the BJP government to provide clean drinking water in affected villages and identify victims in the affected villages.
No arrangements fro potable water have been made by the government in the villages, says Bansal.
Experts from the central and state government have found that the quantity of dissolved oxygen at certain stretches of the river in Ghaziabad, Gautam Budh Nagar, Meerut and Baghpat was nil, indicative of high pollution levels and no aquatic life.
Approximately 50 lakh people live in 154 affected villages along the Hindon River (comprising its tributaries Kali and Krishna rivers), in a broader area across predominantly Jat districts of western Uttar Pradesh- Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, Baghpart, Meerut, Ghaziabad and Gautam Budh Nagar.
Originating in Saharanpur, the 400-km long Hindon passes through six western UP districts before joining the Yamuna on the outskirts of Delhi. The Hindon passes through some of the most densely populated regions of the state, where it is the only source of ground water.
The NGT four-judge bench noted that 71 persons had died of cancer and more than 47 had been rendered bed ridden over the last two years in Gangnauli village in Baghpat district alone.
There have been numerous cases of liver cancer and other ailments caused due to consumption of water. The contamination of water with heavy untreated metals has turned it into poison, says Dharmendra Rathi, pradhan of Gangnauli village.
Speaking to National Herald, he tells at least three more persons from their village, which has 7,000 residents, are currently undergoing treatment for cancer.
"The authorities have failed to provide us with clean water despite the order from the NGT. All the clean water is blocked by six dams that they have constructed on the Hindon and most of it is being used by sugar mills and tanneries," he says.
It has been found that the water is not only unfit for drinking, but also not suitable enough for bathing due to a heavy amount of dissolved toxins and metals, most of it untreated effluents from the industries.
Pritam Singh from Tavela Garhi Village in Baghpat says that stomach infections due to consumption of unclean river water had become very common in the village.
"They authorities don't provide us with any drinking water. So, we have to rely on hand-pumps which bore out the contaminated water," he tells NH.
In fact, representatives from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) and Uttar Pradesh Jal Nigam had flagged 124 industries in the region as being a major cause of pollution in the region.
Based on their findings, the top green court of the country constituted an expert committee headed by Justice SU Khan, a former judge at the Allahabad High Court, to prepare a time-bound action plan.
While filing its report with the NGT on Feb 11 this year, the committee complained of non cooperation on part of the state government in carrying out health checks on villagers affected by the contaminated water, besides failing to provide clean drinking water.
"No effort has been made to identify the victims for compensation," the committee said.
The expert committee found that out of 118 industries identified for prosecution for non-compliance of orders, 28 had got their suspensions revoked.
The Committee said in its report that the chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, despite established norms, had failed to provide any office space to the committee to carry out its work.
The NGT-appointed committee has further noted that non-compliance of the NGT order, which was happening under the Yogi government, amounted to a criminal offense.
"Non-compliance of an order of this Tribunal is a criminal offence under Section 26 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 and in case of Government, Head of the Department is deemed to be guilty for such an offence," said the order.
"Punishment provided is sentence upto three years or fine upto Rs. 10 crores or both with additional fine for the everyday failure," it said.