Solid and liquid waste management: NGT says high priority to issue, strict monitoring the way forward

New Delhi: Bench says enacting laws and directions of courts/tribunals are no substitute for good governance

BY | Sunday, 21 May, 2023
(PC: Nareeta Martin)

The National Green Tribunal has concluded its proceedings on the issue of solid and liquid waste management by all states and Union territories, and said the way forward is to provide high priority to the subject and carry out strict monitoring.

The NGT said the scope of the present order is to compile and collate the background of waste management in the country along with data filed by the chief secretaries of all the states and Union territories, besides analysis and directions for further follow-up action.

A bench headed by chairperson Justice A K Goel said, “Since the tribunal has directed the chief secretaries of all the States/UTs to file further progress reports every six months to be taken up by the tribunal for further consideration, if necessary, the proceedings stand concluded for the time being, subject to compliance being further monitored, if necessary.”

“…way forward has to be in according high priority to the subject and strict monitoring and higher levels of the administration in the states as well as in central government by constituting specialised monitoring cells fixing accountability for deviation from laid down timelines,” the bench, also comprising judicial member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and expert member A Senthil Vel, added.

The bench said that the issue of solid waste management was being monitored from 1996 to 2014 by the Supreme Court and the NGT and although statutory rules and policies were present, action on the ground was inadequate.

“There are mountains of garbage generating methane and other gases which are a source of diseases and deaths…Our conclusion is that enacting laws and directions of courts/tribunals are no substitute for good governance and unless the administration accords high priority of the subject, undesirable situations as found may not be remedied,” it said.

The bench also said that taking people on board and change of mindset are the need of the hour.

Regarding liquid waste management, the bench said the discharge of sewage into drains, rivers and water bodies results in scarcity of drinking water for all living beings apart from the degradation of the environment and damage to public health.

It said the matter in the context of pollution of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers was monitored by the Supreme Court for several decades and the apex court in its order dated February 22, 2017, fixed a deadline, which was monitored by the tribunal for the last six years.

“Water quality of a large number of rivers (including Ganga and Yamuna), lakes, coastal areas and other water bodies are receiving such pollution. This needs to be addressed on a war footing, using indigenous technology wherever viable or such other technology but no drop of sewage can be allowed to be mixed in drinking water,” the bench said.

It said there is no justification for the delay in remedial action having regard to adverse impact on biodiversity and citizens’ right of access to drinking water.

Meaningful implementation of citizens’ right to a clean environment, which is part of the right to life, and a significant facet of sustainable development cannot be wished away, the bench said.

“We hope that the ministries (concerned) of the central government will perform their statutory obligation under the rules, apart from monitoring compliance by the concerned states/UTs,” the bench said.

During the proceedings, the tribunal noted that it had dealt with the matter regarding the acknowledged gaps in solid and liquid waste generation and treatment by 28 states and eight UTs and determined compensation on the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

It noted while environmental compensation was directed to be paid or levied on some states and UTs, others had undertaken to deposit the amount in a separate ring-fenced account.

The total environmental compensation was Rs 79,234.36 crore. Out of the 28 states and eight UTs, however, the UTs of Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar and Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu along with the state of Goa were not directed to pay compensation, the tribunal noted.

“Idea of environmental compensation is to require remediation, fix accountability for past failures and ensure restoration in enforcing citizens’ right to a clean environment and protect public health and it is hoped this step if duly implemented, will help provide a clean environment and achieve sustainable development goals and add to efforts of preventing climate change,” the tribunal said.

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