New Delhi, Aug. 13: As the Lok Sabha got set to pass the National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill today, the Supreme Court made an observation on the Ganga river that reflected the judiciary’s misgivings on the attempt to replace the collegium system of appointing judges.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice T.S. Thakur chided the government for not showing urgency in cleaning up the Ganga — a part of the NDA election manifesto — but focusing on “other matters”.
The judiciary and executive have an uneasy equation over the NJAC bill, which seeks to give the executive a say in appointment of judges. The existing collegium system accords primacy to the judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice of India.
Although the court did not directly refer to the NJAC, it could be inferred that its “other matters” jibe was directed at the bill.
“You are showing no urgency in this matter (Ganga), but only in other matters. Some issues that ought to be on the backburner are being put on the frontburner. This was part of the manifesto (NDA) to clean up the Ganga,” the bench, also comprising Justice A.K. Goel and R. Banumathi, told solicitor-general Ranjit Kumar.
The UPA regime had put the NJAC bill on the backburner. But the NDA chose to give it priority.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by environmentalist M.C. Mehta on the large-scale release of sewage and industrial effluents into the Ganga.
Counsel Vijay Panjwani, appearing for the Central Pollution Control Board, said there had been no let-up in the discharge of sewage and industrial effluents despite the clean-up work starting in 1985.
This prompted Justice Thakur to tell the solicitor-general: “You have to clean up the river in a phased manner. It is not that you will do it for some time at Rishikesh, for some time at Kolkata or then at Allahabad. It has to be done in a phased manner.”
The Ganga clean-up plan, first launched in 1985 by Rajiv Gandhi, is a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At his victory rally in Varanasi, he had said: “Now it is time to do my bit for Ma Ganga.”
So far, over Rs 20,000 crore have been spent on the project but experts have expressed dissatisfaction at the level of cleanliness of the river water. The NDA regime announced Rs 2,040 crore for a new “Ganga Mission” in its first budget.
Under Rajiv Gandhi, the project was known as the Ganga Action Plan. It was renamed as the National River Conservation Plan (NRCP) in 1995 and widened to tackle pollution in other rivers — Yamuna, Damodar and Gomti — and improve their water quality to bathing standards.
At present, the NRCP covers 35 stretches of polluted rivers in 164 towns spread across 20 states. Action plans for different rivers are being drawn up on the basis of surveys by the central and state pollution control boards.
Union water resources Minister Uma Bharati today said her ministry would follow the Supreme Court directive in “letter and spirit”. “Rejuvenation of the Ganga is one of the most important priorities of the NDA government,” she said.