Toxic air, water killing our big cities slowly
It's payback time! AAP government officials will pay a fine of Rs 25 crore for failing to clean up Delhi's toxic air, India's apex pollution court ruled on Monday.
The whip of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) comes when most Indian cities are gasping with giant spectacles of criminal apathy - burning landfills and frothing lakes being the two most frightening ones. Poisonous domestic sewage and industrial waste are also mixing with drinking water supplies, an extensive multicity reality check has revealed.
In case of Delhi, the tribunal has found the AAP government is not serious about implementing its orders, allowing the situation to go from bad to worse. CM Arvind Kejriwal's government cannot use tax payers' money to cough up the fine. Either officials responsible will pay from their own pocket or they will get part of it from the direct polluters.
The NGT has warned that if officials don't deposit the sum with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in four months, there will be an additional monthly fine of Rs 10 crore.
The NGT said polluting activities continue unabated in blatant violation of law and under the nose of the authorities who have hardly done anything concrete except furnishing excuses and helplessness.
The green panel was hearing petitions filed by Satish Kumar of Mundka and Mahavir Singh of Tikri-Kalan who have cited pollution caused by burning of plastic, leather, rubber, motor engine oil and other wastes, and continuous operation of illegal industrial units dealing with such items on agricultural lands.
The order came on day Delhi's air quality deteriorated and was recorded in the 'very poor' category as authorities predicted further rise in pollution levels in the next two days.
This is not for the first time such a fine has ordered. In October, the tribunal had imposed a fine of Rs 50 crore on the Delhi government in similar cases.
Landfills in most major cities are on fire. In 2016, a government committee formed to fix the fire problem had suggested installation of waste-to-energy, compost and biomethanation plants. It had also said fire tenders should be stationed at the sites where water reservoirs should also be developed. But nothing much has happened.
In May this year, toxic smoke from a blaze at the Okhla landfill site in Delhi sparked panic as commuters in the area and people at a nearby hospital gasped for breath.
The city's Bhalswa landfill site also remained in flames for several days in October. "Due to continuous discharge of methane gas from landfills, fire erupts randomly, sending air quality into dangerous zones. We're working on a plan to fix the problem across major cities," said a CPCB official.
Pictures of toxic foam from Bengaluru's Varthur Lake spilling on to the streets are shared widely on social media. The beautiful city of lakes has turned into a city of sewage-filled water bodies that either overflow with toxic foam or catch fire.
A 2016 report by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, states that nearly 98 per cent of the lakes in the city have been encroached, and 90 per cent of the lakes are sewage-fed.
The Delhi government informed the Supreme Court on Monday that it has in-principle agreed to the Regional Rapid Transit System (RRTS) -- a rail corridor between Delhi-Meerut and Delhi-Panipat -- but funding it was a problem.
In August, Kejriwal had urged the Centre to bear Delhi's share of cost of the proposed 82.15-km rapid transit project between Delhi, Ghaziabad and Meerut, citing inadequate finances.
But advocate Aparajita Singh, assisting the top court as amicus curiae in the matter, said the Delhi government was sitting over important issues including RRTS, which is aimed at de-congesting the national capital.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) A N S Nadkarni, appearing for the Centre, also told the bench that Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have agreed to RRTS but Delhi government was not responding.
The amicus also told the bench that there was a proposal to augment 602 Metro coaches but the Delhi government was sitting over this file as well.