Modi’s pet project Sabarmati Riverfront not a flowing river: Gujarat HC task force

The Gujarat High Court appointed Joint Task Force (JTF) has submitted that the waterbody in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project Sabarmati Riverfront is a stagnant water body, which has been polluted by illegal dumping of industrial effluents through Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) waters.

The JTF constituted by the Gujarat HC informed the court on Thursday that the water body in the Sabarmati Riverfront was not having an environmental flow (e-flow) of water. “The waters at the Sabarmati Riverfront do not have an e-flow of water and scientifically no discharge could be allowed to be dumped into such a water body,” said Rohit Prajapati, a member of the JTF.

“The Sabarmati Riverfront waters are in a bad shape as the STP discharges are released into it. These STP have been legally allowed by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) to receive industrial effluents,” said Prajapati.

The Gujarat High Court bench comprising Justice J.B. Pardiwala and Vaibhavi D. Nanavati expressed surprise over this. “We want to know from the AMC how this permission was given? We also order all such permissions granted up till now to be revoked. We will be passing an order on this shortly,” said Justice Pardiwala.

“The Sabarmati river is critically damaged and an almost irreversible damage has been done with a nearly 120-km stretch of the river practically dead,” said Prajapati to the Court. The stretch he was referring to was from the Vasna barrage to the mouth of the river at the Arabian Sea. It should be noted that the River ceases to flow from the Vasna area till where the riverfront is built.

The court was also surprised to hear that the AMC had provided permissions to Cooperative Societies of three villages to draw water from the Sabarmati and these waters were used for yielding agricultural produce.

“We want this to be immediately stopped. How is this allowed?” asked Justice Pardiwala.

When the Counsel for one Miroli Piyat Sahakari Mandli requested the court to consider this as the livelihood of beneficiaries of the drawn waters was at stake, he said, “We understand, but we cannot allow this polluted waters to reach the farms. If the villages have other sources of water they may use it for irrigation, provided it meets the GPCB norms for irrigation waters.”

Devang Vyas, appearing for the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) submitted before the court that the Board remained understaffed. Often, the officials attempting to curb polluting activities were at the receiving end of threats and were obstructed from taking action against the industrial units, he added.

“Such persons (who obstruct GPCB from carrying out statutory functions) will be immediately detained under PASA and we will not tolerate such high-handedness,” Justice Pardiwala said in response to Vyas.

Taking a suo motu cognisance of the Sabarmati river pollution issue based on the media reports in August, the Gujarat High court had then instituted the JTF to look into the issue and suggested appropriate recommendations to remedy the situation.

The Gujarat HC had ordered the formation of the JTF led by Prasoon Gargava, regional director of the Central Pollution Control Council and 10 other members including Deepa Gavali, director and secretary of the Gujarat Ecology Society, Professor Upendra Patel, Rohit Prajapati of a Vadodara based NGO Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, an agent of the Municipal Corporation of Ahmedabad and two agents of the Pollution Control Board of Gujarat.

The task force was also to include an officer from Torrent Power, a member of the police (at least the rank of deputy superintendent of police) and two armed police officers, in accordance with the instructions issued by the bench in its order.