The National Green Tribunal (NGT) New Delhi has recently heard the matter involving severe environmental damage caused to the flood plains of River Yamuna. The NGT had earlier in 2015 approved the Delhi Jal Board’s project for cleaning and rejuvenation of River Yamuna (Project) falling in the Delhi NCR region which included construction of sewage treatment plants, rehabilitation of sewer line systems, etc. The NGT had also prohibited carrying out any construction activity in the demarcated flood plains of River Yamuna.
The flood plains of rivers are significant in the following manner:
- They facilitate the self cleansing ability of the rivers and their capacity to retain floodwater,
- They provide habitat to several riparian plants and animals, natural vegetation including trees, shrubs and other aquatic vegetation,
- They create wetlands that help biological cleaning of waste water before it could enter and pollute the river, etc.
In the present case, the Art of Living Organization (the Respondent) had organized the World Culture Festival Celebration 2016 (Event), where, they had resorted to illegal and unauthorized dumping of debris and construction on the flood plains of River Yamuna. According to a Committee constituted by the NGT:
- A huge gathering at this site had caused vast amounts of solid and liquid pollution,
- Most of the wetland vegetation at the site had been removed by excavation or buried under the debris to provide access to the bridges,
- The plains were filled with soil or debris and the ground had been leveled flat from the use of heavy vehicles at the site,
- Construction material used in building huge stage, large cabins/tents were scattered all over,
- Roads were constructed to provide access to the event, etc.
As per the Committee, all these activities led to severe damage to the environment and natural ecosystem, changes in the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the soil and the complete destruction of the flood plains of River Yamuna, which may have adverse affects on the environment including the creation of an oxygen deficient environment, leaching of toxic substances derived from the debris and other wastes, etc.
The Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had initially permitted the Respondent to use the land in the river bed/flood plain for the Event on certain terms and conditions such as use of eco-friendly materials, no dumping of wastes, no carrying out activity in the vicinity of the River, construction of toilets, permissions and sanctions from various authorities concerned, etc. But the NGT held that the Respondent did not comply with most of the terms and conditions of the DDA.
Therefore, the NGT herein adopted the principle of no fault liability i.e. the Respondent had the onus/burden to take all the precautions that were required to be taken prior and subsequent to the Event. Failing which, the Respondent has been held responsible for the environmental degradation of the flood plains of River Yamuna and that it has to restore the place to its original condition as it was prior to the Event. The NGT has also directed the DDA to undertake and execute work of restoration/restitution of the flood plains of River Yamuna and other works connected thereto and use the compensation paid by the Respondent for this purpose, and to ensure construction/establishment of bio-diversity park at the site.