The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has never “restrained” the use of rescue boats in the Rabindra Sarobar, the tribunal told the custodians of the lake, the KMDA, on Monday.
The KMDA had approached the green tribunal to allow it to let the rowing clubs around the Sarobar use petrol-powered rescue boats.
Two teenage rowers had drowned in the Rabindra Sarobar during a fierce squall on May 21 evening while they were practising for a school regatta.
It later emerged that there was no speed boat or rescue boat to reach the rowers, who were struggling to swim to the shore after their boat toppled.
Following the deaths, rowing in the Sarobar, the only rowing venue in the state, was temporarily banned.
Later, police prepared a standard operating procedure for the resumption of rowing in the lake, which made it mandatory for the clubs to have a rescue boat.
The clubs then approached the KMDA to allow them to use petrol-powered rescue boats, which can move at high speeds during an emergency.
On Monday, the tribunal dismissed the KMDA’s petition and asked it to consult an expert committee that already exists on whether petrol boats will have any environmental impact on the Sarobar waters.
The tribunal said it was for the KMDA to decide on the matter.
“The Tribunal has never restrained the KMDA, the Applicant herein, or Rowing Clubs from operating rescue boats in the Lake in question. This lies exclusively within the domain of the KMDA.... Whether petrol boats should be permitted, if they are environmentally compliant, is a matter to be decided exclusively by the KMDA along with the Expert Committee constituted by the Tribunal,” reads the order passed by the bench of Justice B. Amit Sthalekar, judicial member of the bench, and expert member Saibal Dasgupta.
Subhas Datta, the environment activist whose petition in 2016 resulted in the NGT ban on any puja or community picnic on the Sarobar premises and the order to the KMDA to consult experts for proper maintenance of the flora, fauna and water quality, said on Monday the KMDA had misled the people.
“I have been saying the NGT has never barred the use of rescue boats. The KMDA and some people tried to put the blame on the NGT and environment activists for the accident,” Datta said.
A few days before the tragedy in May, the KMDA had written to the rowing clubs barring them from using petrol-powered boats. On Monday, the NGT said the KMDA’s letter was “absolutely misleading”.
Lawyer Paushali Banerjee, who appeared for the KMDA, said on Monday the organisation had approached the NGT as “it has no knowledge of the environmental impact petrol boats can have on the Sarobar”.
“The tribunal has asked us to consult experts and we will do so,” she said. A KMDA official said a meeting of the expert committee would be convened soon.