Last Friday, the principal bench of the National Green Tribunal imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh as environment compensation on Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation for failing to comply with the tribunal’s earlier order of cordoning its garbage dump area at Mollar Bheri and stop polluting seepage from contaminating the water bodies around.
“For failure to comply with the direction passed as far back as on May 27, the Corporation shall deposit a sum of Rs 10 lakh as environment compensation to be deposited with the Central Pollution Control Board within a period of 15 days,” directed the bench comprising Justice S.P. Wangdi and expert member S.S. Garbyal.
The bench has also threatened to impose a further fine of Rs 15 lakh if the corporation fails “to take action as directed” in the interim order in May.
On May 27, based on a petition filed by environmentalist Subhas Datta, referring to reports published in The Telegraph, the bench first ordered the civic body to erect a fence to ensure that the foul leachate and slurry from the dump site do not seep out and contaminate the surrounding water bodies of East Calcutta Wetlands, many of which are used for pisciculture. The civic body was asked to complete the fencing by June 15 and submit the compliance report to the bench on July 5.
“The affidavit filed by the Corporation… does not throw any light on the actual work undertaken in terms of the interim order. The actions indicated therein are only proposals and futuristic,” observed the bench, while passing the latest order.
The area falls within the East Calcutta Wetlands, which is not only an internationally recognised wetland area, tagged on the Ramsar list, but is also protected by an order from the Calcutta high court dating back more than two decades ago. The order was passed in the early 1990s by the high court in response to a petition moved by the non-profit PUBLIC (People United for Better Living in Calcutta). Moreover, Central Wetlands Rules 2017 also bar any contamination and pollution in the wetland area spread over 12,500 hectares.
“We are not the only ones dumping waste at the site. Other adjoining areas also use Mollar bheri as a dumping ground. But we have to abide by the bench order. As a matter of fact, we have already prepared a detailed project report (DPR) on waste dump site fencing, and sent it to the state urban development department for fund support ,” said Krishna Chakrabarty, mayor of Bidhannagar municipal corporation to The Telegraph Salt Lake. According to sources, New Town and Sector V also dump their waste in the area.
A 2015 report when Bidhannagar Municipality acquired compactors to tackle mounting garbage heap
“According to our estimate, about Rs 13 crore will be required to fence the area in a temporary manner but the cost will rise to Rs 50 crore approximately if a semi-permanent cordon has to be installed,” Devashis Jana, mayor-in-council in charge of waste management, explained to The Telegraph Salt Lake.
Jana observed that the civic body’s initiative in preparing the DPR and its submission to the state government could not be properly highlighted before the bench at the last hearing due to the long political impasse in the corporation. After weeks of absence, the erstwhile mayor Sabyasachi Dutta was forced to step down in mid-July and the new mayor took charge only on August 10 while the mayor’s council was formed much later, on August 30. “We plan to submit our position before the bench at the next hearing and will request for a waiver of the fine,” added Jana.
“This (fencing of dump site) is at best an interim arrangement. As per law, particularly in view of the standing high court order and recent central rules, nobody can dump waste within the East Calcutta Wetlands. In this case, the dumping is happening in a part of the wetland area known as Mollar Bheri. The corporation should try to locate an appropriate alternative as a permanent solution,” said activist Datta.
Municipal authorities point out that it has been dumping waste at Mollar Bheri for about two decades and feel that the state has to handhold the civic body in finding out an alternative dumping site.
At the last hearing, the bench had also allowed a month’s extension to the committee, earlier formed by the tribunal itself to trace violations in the East Calcutta Wetlands area, to submit its report to the bench.