Will take legal action if Guj gov’t fails to check flooding, water-logging: Environmentalists

They write that that if there is any damage to the environment or communities, authorities will have to compensate

LetterImage Courtesy: counterview.net

Rohit Prajapati, Environmental Activist, Researcher and Writer, along with other environmental experts and educationists, has drafted a letter to the Municipal Commissioner of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation and officials from other ministries like the Ministry of Jal Shakti Shram Shakti Bhawan’ Ministry of Environment, Forests and Change; Urban Development and Urban Housing Department of Gujarat, Gujarat Pollution Control Board and other officials of the Gujarat government to act immediately in-order to prevent anticipated disasters like flooding and water logging due to deliberate negligence regarding the reclamation of ravines, water detention areas under the pretext of ‘low lying areas’ or blaming heavy rainfall, and debris dumping. 

The subject of the letter clearly states that the government of Gujarat will be liable as individuals to compensate if any damage is done to the environment and the affected communities.

The letter reads, “Amidst the (Covid-19) chaos and uncertainty, the governmental powers and the related administrative mechanisms have again chosen to assert their top down development decisions, which are not thought through or rely on the latest sciences or techniques, and are imposed on the citizens without even giving proper information, let alone without authentic and proactive participation. This is proven by the issuance of the rushed tender for the “the consultancy for preparation of Detail Project Report for Master Planning of Rejuvenation and Flood Mitigation for the Vishwamitri River (Vadodara) from the origin of the river (Pavagadh) to end point of the river (Gulf of Khambhat)”. The Concerned Citizens of Vadodara have conveyed their staunch concerns and reservations against this covert action through a letter dated 17.04.2019.”

The signatories of the letter appreciate the government’s measures to curb the pandemic in India, but question their lack of vigor and diligence in the case of the case of recurrent and anticipated disasters like flooding and water logging.

They say, “The Vadodara Municipal Corporation, has sat on our letters since 2017 (see Reference Number 13) and has done nothing significant to address the issues. If the city of Vadodara does not wake up and begin the technically and ecologically sound pre-, during, and post- measures for reclaiming and restoring the ravines and water detention areas filled with construction debris and all kinds of solid waste and sorting, recycling and upcycling the removed materials (resources), we are headed for another episode of disaster and damage due to water-logging and floods during the upcoming monsoon of 2020. We all must address the so-called “flood” issue by treating not its symptoms but root causes. This is the real work that has been deliberately ignored.”

The signatories also categorically said that the current nonchalance being displayed by the system would not affect the elected officials or bureaucrats with a staff to take care of their wants. Poor people pay the heaviest price of such criminal negligence by the concerned authorities.

In addition to the existing issues, they also want to draw the attention of the authorities to newly emerging crucial issues related to rapid “development” works that need serious action.

They write, “The ravines and wetlands are being systematically destroyed and filled with debris and municipal solid waste in order to reclaim land for further “development”. This will further exacerbate the already existing waterlogging and flooding woes in various parts of the city.”

They say that tasks of rapid development are going to be altering nature-made morphology as well as natural functions of the river system by either narrowing the section of the river, straightening of the meanders, modifying the natural topography along the banks, clearing of vegetation, and increasing impervious surfaces.

They explain, “The ravines and wetlands are nature’s water management mechanisms, which act like shock absorbers, natural sponges, by detaining the inundation of waters in the river during monsoon,” adding that actions of development are “modifying the soil structure, its interactions with water and other bio-geo-chemical processes along the riparian zones, and aggravates the threat of disasters such as floods and water logging.”

Even after constant pressure, there has been no remedial action from the government. The practice of dumping in the ravines still continues, despite laws and court orders. These activities are in gross violation of The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2016 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010, The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 and The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016.

They clarify, “We once again bring to your notice that the above-mentioned activities are in deliberate and blatant violation of the Order dated 25.05.2016 of the National Green Tribunal in Application 49 of 2016 (Rohit Prajapati and Anr V/s Secretary MoEFCC & Ors). We would like to make it very clear once again, that this order does not prevent you from removing the debris from the banks of Vishwamitri River, its tributaries, wetlands and ravines. Please do not deliberately misinterpret the Order, which will also amount to the contempt of the Court.”

Their key message to the authorities is, “It is high time we recognize the realm of the river system as a whole and duly vacate our encroachments form its bio-physical environs. It is important to reiterate that the restoration of the river, ravines, ponds, wetlands, and such must be done systematically, scientifically, and in an ecologically sound manner and ensure healthy and well-functioning ecosystems, including the habitats of the riverine flora and fauna.”

In light of this, they have placed their demands to the government as below.

1.       Implement immediately, in letter and spirit, ‘The Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016’ and ‘The Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016’.

2.       Implement immediately all the directions mentioned in the reference given by the MoEFCC, GPCB and others.

3.       Ensure devising and implementation of proactive and sound Action Plans for proper and well-monitored remediation, restoration, and future waste management by sorting, recycling, reusing, and upcycling.

4.       Establish a semi-statutory body, with legal teeth, that would include subject experts (ecologists, geologists, hydrologists, environmental / ecological planners, wetland specialists, landscape architects, legal and legislative specialist, investors) as well as knowledgeable and experienced members of the community at-large, to guide and monitor the remediation of the damage done and new development initiatives that the government would undertake proactively to improve the quality of the local ecosystems and lives of the citizens of Vadodara.

5.       Establish a fully functional, effective, and knowledgeable Urban and Environmental / Ecological planning Department in the VUDA and/or VMC that also includes experts from various related fields (such as ecologists, environmental and civil engineers, and landscape architects) for ensuring better plans and detailed designs for the city.

6.       Make detailed action plans for restoring and maintaining the river, the tributaries (nalas), ravines, ponds and wetlands so as to ensure their natural functioning and monitoring year round.  

7.       Prepare immediately, technically correct and accurate contour survey, digital elevation models (DEMs), plinth levels, and other physical and biological factors, with advise from experts, for the entire VMC and VUDA areas.

8.       Plan and design all physical and infrastructural interventions, including roads and other structures, seriously and scientifically considering the above stated data and adopting participatory methods.

9.       Prepare Disaster Mitigation Plans for the city by using the landscape and ecosystem approaches right from the origin of River Vishwamitri and include all the villages and towns in the watershed of this river.

10.   Revisit and revise all the so-called “beautification” plans and projects.

11.   Set up a recycling and upcycling plant, at the earliest, to treat the debris (concrete waste and other household waste) and convert it into a usable form.

12.   Implement appropriate rainwater harvesting structures as per the micro-level geology-hydrology of the area to harvest the excessive water available while maintaining the e-flow of the river and natural water bodies.

13.   Make the satellite images of the past and recent floods and other relevant information and data available in the public domain. This should display all areas covering the entire VMC and VUDA that get waterlogged, flooded, and dumped or encroached upon in the entire city.

14.   Mobilize and commit enough funding to fulfill the above demands / objectives for a better city.  

15.   Redefine administrative boundaries (like wards and districts) according to the boundaries of watersheds and sub-watersheds.

16.   As a significant first step, the GPCB, the VMC, and the Collector’s Office together must chart a plan of action for a. before, b. during, and c. after phases of debris and solid waste removal from the ravines and low-lying areas, both at the city and district levels.

The signatories write that they look forward to a positive response from the authorities and discuss the issues stated in the letter. They say, “We sincerely hope that all the concerned and responsible government authorities, that aspire to make Vadodara a “Smart City” will go beyond such labels and strive to work with us to make Vadodara a timeless, healthy, and happy city and eco-region will heed to our inputs and demands at the earliest possible.”

The entire letter may be read below.


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