The suo moto action came while the Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by Delhi Jal Board on the requirement of urgent intervention of the Apex Court in form of directions on the Haryana Government for ceasing the discharge of untreated effluents resulting in a rise of ammonia levels in river water. According to the petitioner, the intervention is essential to avert the humanitarian crisis that the citizens of NCT of Delhi are facing.
INITIATION OF SUO MOTO ACTION
The issue of pollution of water resources and the deterioration in quality of fresh water led the bench to take a suo moto action as being an issue of greater importance affecting general public and living beings including marine life.
"Deterioration of quality of fresh water has a direct correlation with the quality of public health. It is an acknowledged fact that pollution of water supplies by sewage effluents has been and still is a major cause of variety of diseases and discomforts." The bench observed.
The Court relied on the landmark judgment of Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India (2000) wherein it was held that all people, whatever their stage of development and their social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantum and of a quality equal to their basic needs.
Moreover, the bench also took notice of the directive principles of state policy enshrined under Art. 47 and 48A of the Constitution which casts a duty upon the state to improve the public health of citizens and protect the environment.
On the major causes of water pollution in the cities, the bench observed that "surface water resources such as rivers, ponds and lakes where effluents are discharged from local bodies are highly polluted. Such discharge of human sewage and other pollutants results into deterioration in chemical, physical and biological properties of water. All these processes lead to degradation of natural environment."
Furthermore, the bench was of the view that in dealing with the issue of water pollution, the procedure of setting up "Sewage Treatment Plants" were implemented with a purpose of prioritizing the cities that discharge industrial pollutions and sewer directly in the rivers and water bodies. However, the bench, while observing the facts of the present petition noted that this system is either not treated through a plant before discharging effluents or the treatment plants do not function adequately.
Therefore, the court ordered for taking up a suo moto action on the issue of remediation of polluted rivers.
In view of this, the bench issued notice to State of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh along with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Central Board of Pollution Control.
The bench has also appointed Ms. Meenakshi Arora, also the counsel for the petitioner in the writ petition, to be the amicus curiae for assisting the Court in the suo moto cognizance of rivers.
Further directions issued by the bench are:
- CPCB to submit a report identifying municipalities along the river Yamuna, which have not installed total treatment plants for sewage as per the requirement or have gaps in ensuring that the sewage is not discharged untreated into the river.
- CPCB may also highlight any other source of prominent contamination within the limits of Municipalities.
- CPCB shall also submit priority-wise list of Municipalities, river stretches adjacent to which have been found to be most polluted.
MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS DATED 13.01.2021
Senior Adv. Meenakshi Arora, representing the petitioner Delhi Jal Board pressed upon the gravity of the urgent intervention needed in the issue as the respondent State authorities have been failing to prevent the discharge of effluents in the river water as they lack the required mechanism to treat the water levels.
"The ammonia levels in Yamuna water have been rising. The requirement of ammonia levels is that the level should be below 0.9 ppm. However, yesterday we found that the level of ammonia was 6. Therefore after an emergency meeting, we had to issue notices to 38 areas of North and South Delhi saying that there will be shortage of water." Adv. Meenakshi Arora argued.
According to Ms. Arora, Yamuna River water is the source of supplying drinking water to major areas in the NCT of Delhi and therefore, the rising ammonia levels in the river water are harmful and deadly for the citizens of Delhi. "Ammonia when mixed with chlorine will cause cancer. We cannot let the citizens die." She submitted.
To this, the CJI had asked the petitioner to inform the adequate steps which the State of Haryana take in lowering down the pollution and ammonia levels in the water.
The submission made by Ms. Arora was that the major issue which the State of Haryana faces is that it lacked proper mechanism in treating the discharged water. Subsequently, the respondents are failing to control the issue of rising ammonia levels.
"The problem with Haryana is that their STP (Sewage Treatment Plant) system doesn't work. You need to check the level of the discharge levels before discharging water in river."
After analyzing the submission made by the petitioner, the Bench took suo moto action and ordered that "We are taking suo moto action on the Yamuna river issue. Ms. Meenakshi Arora is appointed as Amicus Curiae in the matter. We would request you to serve papers on the respondents and take up the matter on Tuesday." CJI ordered.
The bench will now take up the matter on 19th January 2021.