NGT directs all states, UTs to complete District Environment Plans by Oct 31

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New Delhi, Jul 9 (PTI) Observing that there is a dire need for compiling information on vital environmental issues and planning to address the gaps in compliances, the National Green Tribunal has directed the chief secretaries of all the States and Union Territories (UTs) to ensure completion of District Environment Plans (DEPs) by October 31.

The green panel said that it is the Constitutional obligation of the States/UTs to ensure compliance of the environmental mandate as clean environment is part of right to life.

The tribunal said it is unhappy to note that all the States/UTs have not taken the matter as seriously as the subject requires.

“We hope that the Chief Secretaries of all the States/UTs will provide due attention to the subject in the larger public interest and in the interest of health, safety of the citizens and rule of law to effectuate basis fundamental rights of the citizens,” the NGT said.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the DEPs may contain data on each environmental issue covering each city, town and village and they must show the extent of gap in compliance of laid down norms.

“The DEP must give timelines for accomplishment of tasks backed up with budgetary support and the officers entrusted with the job, with contact details of the nodal officer at various levels in the District.

“ Scope for public participation on remedial measures like plantations. DEPs may also contain mechanism for review at different levels. The District Magistrates may accordingly execute the action plans by reviewing the progress on various targets at least once in a month,” the bench said.

All the States may accordingly consolidate the DEPs and prepare their respective State Environment Plans and upload the same on their respective websites, the tribunal said.

“The existing machinery should be able to meet the challenge and should be revamped from time to time. As repeatedly observed by this Tribunal, degradation of air, water and soil cause large number of deaths and diseases, apart from loss of livelihood. “There seems to be huge gap in responsibility entrusted to the authorities and action on the ground, as shown by the reports. Damage to the environment is a criminal offence under various statutes. Deaths and diseases attributable to non-compliance of environmental norms cannot be disputed but adequate remedial action remains to be seen,” the bench said.

The green panel said the effect of deaths and diseases due to pollution is no less than homicides or hurts to human beings. Major failure of State authorities in compliance of waste management norms, which management is vested in the State authorities but no accountability is fixed for such failures, it said.

'Such unsatisfactory state of affairs needs to be checked by involvement of senior functionaries in the Government, committed to the welfare of citizens, the Constitution and the Rule of law.

“We hope the concerned authorities will not fail the citizens. Remedies need to be provided at grass-root level with as high priority as opening of primary health centres or police stations for protection of basic right to clean environment, health and hygiene,” the tribunal said.

The NGT said that 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution covering the requirement of having a plan for protection of environment upto Panchayat level, coming in force in the year 1993 seek to promote protection of environment at the grass root level. “It is a matter of regret that the mandate of law remains practically dead letter when even after 28 years, such plans are not in place at many places and where plans have been prepared, the same are incomplete. “Making of plans is only a first step which will not by itself be complete unless there are budgetary provisions, timelines and effective monitoring mechanism. There has to be flow of information from the lowest level upto the national level,” the bench said.

The tribunal said there is dire need for compiling information on vital environmental issues and planning to address the gaps in compliances.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Shree Nath Sharma which was originally filed before the Rajasthan High Court for direction to check pollution of Sujanganga River at Bharatpur. The High Court directed taking of remedial measures - removing encroachment, preventing dumping of waste and fixing accountability of the concerned officers for failing to protect the environment.

On September 26, 2013, the High Court directed that the matter be transferred to this Tribunal which order was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2018. PTI PKS RKS RKS

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