The central zonal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in Bhopal came down heavily on the Madhya Pradesh government for not releasing funds meant for lake conservation in the city. It directed the state chief secretary to release the Rs 15 crore earmarked for the purpose by January 16, next year.
The bench comprising Justice Dalip Singh and expert member P S Rao said that till date no serious efforts have been made by the state government to prevent pollution and improve the quality of water in the city lakes, particularly the Upper lake which still continues to be a major source of supply of water to the citizens of Bhopal city.
Acting on a petition filed by Alankrita Mehra, a radiologist with the People’s College of Medical Sciences and Research Centre, the bench had sought responses from the state government on preserving the Upper lake of Bhopal, known as Bhoj wetland and declared a Ramsar site, as well as 10 other lakes located in and around Bhopal city. The other lakes are: Lower lake, Shahpura lake, Motia talab, Siddiqui Hassan Khan talab, Munshi Hussain Khan talab, Sarangpani lake, Laharpur reservoir, Char Imli water body and Hataikheda reservoir.
Mehra had said in her petition that there has been considerable encroachment within the lakes, which has resulted in shrinking of the lake areas. Extensive agricultural activity is going on in the catchment area from where the water flows into the Upper lake in highly polluted condition, carrying harmful chemicals because of extensive use of chemical fertilizers as well as pesticides and insecticides. This ultimately affects the quality of water of the lakes, more particularly the Upper lake, which also continues to be a source of drinking water to certain parts of Bhopal city and adjoining areas, Mehra had submitted.
To understand the nature of problem and its extent, the tribunal had directed the divisional commissioner of Bhopal to carry out inspection of the catchment areas, wetlands and the lakes and submit a detailed report.
In the report, submitted on October 30, the divisional commissioner highlighted 18 issues which require immediate attention to prevent degradation of the lakes and preservation of the wetlands which are important habitats for birds, including migratory birds.
The tribunal observed that under the chair of the chief minister, a meeting was held on September 7, 2012, in which directions were issued for preparation of short-term and long-term plans for implementation.
Some other committees had been constituted even earlier, including one headed by the chief secretary of Madhya Pradesh, for preparation and implementation of action plan for the preservation of lakes of Bhopal.
During the meeting, an amount of Rs 15 Crore was earmarked for the action plan, but no budgetary allocation was made.
The tribunal observed that for the financial year 2013-14, a separate head was to be provided and against Rs 15 crores agreed to in the meeting, Rs 1.25 Crore was allotted.
“This shows the seriousness with which the matter pertaining to the problems identified at the highest level is being given priority as no works can possibly be carried out without financial allocation,” the bench said.
The tribunal said that Rs 15 crore should be released for lake conservation and work should be started as soon as possible. “We may only add by way of caution that the possibility of the state government being considered to be a polluter as a result of inaction may also persuade us to hold it responsible under the ‘polluter pays’ principle,” the bench warned.