The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed a fine of Rs 1 crore on the Maharashtra government for its failure to comply with the Supreme Court's earlier direction to prevent discharge of municipal waste into a river at the pilgrim place Trimbakeshwar, one of the 12 holy 'Jyotirlings'.
The NGT has also asked the Maharashtra Chief Secretary to be present at the next hearing.
The tribunal has directed the state government to deposit an amount of Rs 1 crore as interim compensation to the district magistrate for the rehabilitation of the water quality of the Trimbakeshwar river in Nashik district.
NGT's principal bench chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel had on September 16 noted that the Trimbakeshwar Municipal Council had failed to prevent the discharge of municipal waste into the Trimbakeshwar river, a small tributary, which joins and dumps all the pollutants into the Godavari river a short distance downstream.
The tribunal also pointed out that the civic authority had failed to prevent the discharge of municipal waste into the river despite at least four orders by the NGT in the past two years.
"The stand of the authorities of Maharashtra is unfortunate. It shows lack of sensitivity to public duties and respect for binding law and order of the Supreme Court and this tribunal. Continuing violation of law, resulting in denial of the right of the citizens to a clean environment and also potential for damage to public health is against the rule of laws guaranteed under the Constitution," observed Justice Goel.
For the failure in action in the matter, the bench further asserted that inaction of the authorities is like saying "we do not respect the law, crime is permissible, and we are party to it".
The bench noted that water pollution results in deaths and diseases and preventing it is as important an obligation as preventing any other crime, in order to protect the health of the citizens. It said that water pollution also results in depriving living creatures of sources of drinking water.
"We direct the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra to personally look into the matter and take remedial action against the erring officers in light of the binding order of the Supreme Court and this tribunal," the NGT order read.
The tribunal's judgment came while hearing a plea filed by Kiran Ramdas Kamble and others seeking action against the failure of the Trimbakeshwar Municipal Council and other local authorities concerned.
The tribunal had earlier directed the Secretary of Urban Development (local bodies), Maharashtra, to prevent sewage from being discharged into the river and take necessary measures for the proper functioning of the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP).
The bench also directed the Maharashtra Chief Secretary to be present in the next hearing (via video conferencing) along with an action taken report, and listed the matter for further consideration on January 10, 2022.