NGT directs Telangana government to remove encroachments in Hyderabad’s Musi river and clear it of pollutants

Published : February 25, 2021 14:54 IST

A view of the Musi as it flows through Hyderabad. A file picture. Photo: RAMAKRISHNA G.

Last October, parts of the Hyderabad, including its historic old city, were struck with a flood that threatened to engulf large swathes of land and engrave itself as the worst in the city’s history. While parts of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) and its environs received an unprecedented 200 odd mm of rainfall in a 24-hour period, what exacerbated the situation was the flooding of the Musi, a largely parched and grossly encroached, and intermittently sewage-fed, river on the banks of which Hyderabad stands.

The river, also known as Musinuru, divides Hyderabad’s historic old city and the new city, just seemed to come alive, swirling, flooding the city’s already overflowing tanks and lakes, especially the Hussain Sagar and Himayat Sagar, submerging everything in its wake, with several localities being marooned or even submerged and at least 24 people losing their lives.

Taking a hard look at the floods and a petition filed by Mohammed Nayeem Pasha on the pollution of and encroachments on the Musi, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), on February 24, directed the Telangana government to remove the “huge” number of encroachments in “mission mode” and take urgent steps to protect and rejuvenate the polluted river.

The Principal Bench of the NGT ruled that the government’s “failure [to protect the Musi] is resulting in a water crisis, the spread of diseases and posing a challenge to food safety, apart from aesthetics and failure of rule of law...”. The Principal Bench pulled up the government for “not discharging its basic obligation” in implementing and following a 47-year-old law — The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 — and allowing untreated waste to be disposed of into water bodies feeding the Musi. This, the Bench ruled was in contempt of binding directions passed by the Supreme Court in 2017, mandating putting in place a requisite number of sewage effluent and common effluent treatment plants along the Musi by March 31, 2018.

The NGT order said the rejuvenation works on the Musi would henceforth be monitored monthly by the Telangana government’s Chief Secretary, and by the Ministry of Jal Shakti once every quarter. The Ministry, which is responsible for issuing the National River Rejuvenation Mechanism (NRRM) guidelines, will prescribe the steps needed to control the pollution and for the rejuvenation of all polluted river stretches in the country. In a bid to ensure an effective monitoring strategy, the Ministry of Jal Shakti will also supervise the setting up of environment data grids at the national/State/district levels.

On the same day, in another case, the NGT bench issued directions to all States to strictly follow the timelines that have been prescribed for the rejuvenation of polluted river stretches. It ruled that any transgression or failure to do so would attract the payment of compensation to the Ministry of Jal Shakti as per the formula fixed by the green court in 2019. The NGT bench also added that chief secretaries would be held accountable in case governments failed to pay the compensation.

Last January an expert committee set up by the NGT had visited various locations on the Musi in connection with the clean-up and rejuvenation and restoration works on the polluted river. The NGT team along with retired High Court judge Vilas Afzalpurkar visited Chaderghat, Bapughat, High Court complex and other places where the Musi river has a decent flow. The expert committee recently submitted its report to the NGT.

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