Above: Pollution from a River Kasardi which was denotified as it was affecting some big businesses
When Devendra Fadnavis of BJP became the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, one would have thought that the chronically polluted and encroached Nag Nadi from Nagpur, as also other rivers in the state may see better days. This was not just an optimistic hope. The Government at the Centre was making all the correct noises about being concerned about rivers, it had launched the Namami Gange Program for rejuvenation of Ganga River and had changed the name of Ministry of Water Resources to Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation.
Back in Maharashtra, state of rivers was deteriorating from bad to worse[i], with the highest polluted stretches in the country. In Nagpur, the hometown on Fadnavis, pollution and encroachment of Nag River[ii] had reached epic proportions.
In fact Nag River was a “Notified” River as per the River Regulation Zone (RRZ) Policy notified through a Government Resolution dated 15.07.2000, of the State of Maharashtra through which 20 rivers basins [iii]and sub basins were “notified” for regulation. The Environment Department, in cooperation with Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, divided river basins into 4 zones/categories from A1 to A4 and each zone had specific regulations about siting industries and sewage from settlements on river banks. The zones were based on water quality.
Roughly, the zoning and regulation was as below:(Source: http://mpcb.gov.in/consentmgt/riverdistance.php)
|Classes||No Development zone for any type of industries||Only Green category of industries with pollution control devices.||Only Orange category of industries with pollution control devices.||Any type of industries (Red, Orange, Green) with pollution control devices|
|A-I||3 Km on the either side of river||From 3 Km to 8 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||From 3 Km to 8 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||Beyond 8 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side.|
|A-II||1/2 Km on the either side of river.||From 1/2 Km to 1 Km from (H.F.L.) on either side||From 1 Km to 2 Km from (H.F.L.) on either side||Beyond 2 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side.|
|A-III||1/2 Km on the either side of river||From 1/2 Km to 1 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||From 1/2 Km to 1 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||Beyond 1 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side.|
|A-IV||1/2 Km on the either side of river||From 1/2 to 1 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||From 1/2 to 1 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||Beyond 1 Km from river (HFL.) High Flood Line on either side.|
|MIDC with CETP||1/2 Km on the either side of river||From 1/2 Km to 3/4 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||From 1/2 Km to 3/4 Km from river (H.F.L.) on either side||Beyond 3/4 from river (H.F.L.) on either side.|
The original 2000 Policy was modified through a Government Resolution (GR) 2009 wherein nonpolluting industries were allowed in No Development Zone and some activities like Hotels, Resorts, etc. were allowed in A1 stretch of the river. It laid guidelines about treating all domestic waste by local bodies and that the STPs should be located 100 mts away from the flood line, while solid waste management facility had to be sited 500 mts away from the flood line for municipal corporations.
The 2009 GR also set up an RRZ committee with Secretaries of Departments like Environment, Industry, Urban Development, Water Resources, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, etc., with Director, Env Department as the Member Secretary. Maharashtra is the first (and only?) state in the country to have such a policy and this was seen as a progressive step in the otherwise depressing scene of water management in Maharashtra.
When there was a strong attempt by the Nagpur Municipal Corporation to denotify Nag River from this Policy to allow industries at its origin[iv], it was thought that the new Government will challenge this as soon as it comes into power and set a proactive example. We wrote as much in an open Letter to the CM just after his swearing in ceremony[v].
But shockingly, what the new BJP-led Government has done is to scrap the entire River Regulation Zone Policy itself which has been working in coordination with Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, Environment Department, Water Resources Department, Urban Development Department etc., since the past 15 years.
On the 3rd February 2015, the Principal Secretary Ajoy Mehta signed a circular declaring that “According to Cabinet meeting on 20th January, 2015 the River Regulation Policy of 2000, modified in 2009, now stands cancelled. It will not apply to either existing or new industries”. A notice has reached the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and it is now free to give permission for establishment of industries in rivers regulation zone[vi]. It is reported that MPCB will give permission after taking a simple affidavit from the industries to ensure zero discharge.
The entire episode is a black mark for Maharashtra, its rivers and people.
The justifications for this act of the cabinet, as offered by Mr. Fadnavis, are entirely untenable. He has said different things at different times, some stated below:
- The RRZ Policy was “Bad in Law” [vii]: Fadnavis is reported to have said: “RRZ contravenes the national policy. It was a bad instrument as it doesn’t mitigate pollution. National policy mitigates and also regulates. We can’t have a policy which is against the constitution,”[viii]
When SANDRP discussed this issue with the Environment Department, Government of Maharashtra, we were told that State wanted modifications in the policy as per requests by the Industries Department and sent the modifications to Law and Judicial Department. (Please note that the original Policy has been modified once in 2009 already). The Law and Judicial Department however came back saying that State cannot make any modifications in the Policy and the Policy itself is Bad in Law. The Industries Department immediately pounced on this point and lobbied for the cancellation of the policy. The Environment Department does not seem to have fought this.
The entire episode does not hold ground because:
Firstly, the RRZ Policy was promulgated through a Government Resolution (Shasan Nirnay) by the State Government on 15.07.2000, evoking the Section 5 (Power to give Directions) of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
Section 5 confers powers to Center to “issue directions in writing to any person, officer or any authority and such person, officer or authority shall be bound to comply with such directions. This includes power to direct: the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process”.
This power has been conferred to Maharashtra too, vide Notification No. S.O. 488(E) dated 17-5-88 published in the Gazette No. 255 dated 17-5-88.[ix] So the GR is not Bad in Law.
It is thus legal and within law for Maharashtra to pass a GR for “the closure, prohibition or regulation of any industry, operation or process”.
How can the govt defend this act of cancellation of RRZ policy?
Secondly, the RRZ Policy was being implemented for the betterment of environment since the past 15 years without any legal challenge from any quarter.It has not been opposed by either the Ministry of Environment or any Central Department. In fact, Env. Minister Prakash Javadekar feigned ignorance over the scrapping of this policy, promising to “look into it”. Law and Judicial Department’s opinion about a policy which worked towards protecting environment of the state cannot be taken as the last word, on the other hand, this raises strong suspicions.
- Nonpolluting industries were hampered because of the RRZ[x]:
SANDRP has analysed minutes of the meetings of the committee on RRZ Notification from June 2011 to September 2014. The perusal clearly shows that the committee has been lenient about nonpolluting industry allowing it to be set up after certain modifications. In any case, if at all the Government wanted to ease norms for non-polluting industries, it could have easily done so by modifying the RRZ Policy, without scrapping it. It is clear that the aim of the government was to scrap the River Regulation itself in the attempt to help some specific industries.
In case Law and Judicial Department advised the Government against modifying the Policy, then it has been a grave mistake, raising suspicions and should be amended urgently.
Specific Industries that gained from scrapping RRZ Policy:
- Western Coal Fields, Wainganga:
In its meetings dated June 2013, the RRZ Committee noted that Coal mines are categorized as Red Category industries and should be located 8 kms away from river banks in A1 category river stretches, 2 kms away from river banks in A2 category and 500 mts away in A3 and 4 categories. It further rightly noted that currently most coal mines are on river banks and leading to issues like pollution, siltation, dumping, leading to flood like situation.
But Coal Ministry and Western Coal Fields who have a project Penganga Opencast Mines on Penganga River, a tributary of Godavari, complained about this to the government. In response, a separate meeting of Env. Minister and high ranking officials was held and after prolonged negotiations, the distance of coal mines from river banks (not flood line) was agreed as just 250 mts in A2 stretch, down from original 2 kms. It was decided that no overburden debris should be dumped in 200 mts from riverbanks, a retaining wall should be built by proponents and that separate guiding principles for siting and management of coal mines would be worked on.
There are several reports of the devastation caused by Western Coalfields Limited to Vidarbha’s rivers due to dumping overburden and mining even INSIDE river beds. The siltation from Western Coalfields has been held responsible for increased flood losses in Irai River, Chandrapur. Dr. Doodhpachare, environmental scientist from Chandrapur says, “WCL’s overburden dumps are located virtually inside the river beds. The Mana and Lalpeth mines, especially, have dumped so much over-burden in the Irai river that the river-bed has risen by several metres.”[xi] Wardha River is also chronically polluted due to mine pollution.[xii]
However, in an interview, the CM specifically mentioned “The decision ( to scrap RRZ Policy) immediately enables coal production in Penganga mine upto 3 million tonnes relieving coal shortage for Mahagenco thermal plants”.[xiii]
This would mean that Penganga Coal Mines are allowed to mine even within 250 mts of the river bank? This will not only destroy the river and affect people and future of the area, it will also be an invitation to fresh flood disasters. How is this beneficial for the people of Maharashtra?
- Ultratek India Ltd: Kasardi River, Mumbai:
In an intriguing case in September 2014, the distance of Ultratek Cement Company was measured as 200 mts from Kasardi River bank in Mumbai by MPCB, but 750 mts according to Water Resources Department. 750 mts distance just crossed the ‘No Development Zone’ for A 2 Stretch of river (Kasardi was A2 river). The RRZ Committee asked WRD to cross check their measurements and submit their inferences by the next meeting.
Amazingly, in the same month, the entire River Kasardi was taken off from the Notified Rivers list with no justification given! No doubt this eased Ultratek Cement’s concerns. This was despite the fact that July 2014 RRZ Meeting minutes specifically note that “MWRRA has suggested not to take Kasardi off the notified rivers list.”
The decision to denotify Kasardi was welcomed by industry owners of Taloja, a chronically polluted region, saying Kasardi was not perennial and that any restrictions on industries here will make industrialist shift their bases from here. The industry association has also aggressively denied charged of residents that untreated pollutants are entering Kasardi River.
Not only this, but Cement Industry has also been taken off from Red Category List industry as per MPCB and has been shifted to Green Category![xiv]
- Schneider India. Phase II, Chakan Pune:
It has been reported that one of the reasons behind scrapping the RRZ Policy was the issues with Schneider India Phase II at Chakan[xv]. However, as can be seem from the minutes of RRZ Committee meeting September 2014, the project lies in River Regulation Zone of the Bhama River and the clear position taken by the RRZ committee was that the company has not even estimated its sewage and effluent generated, there is no Common Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) CETP in Chakan MIDC and that this industry (Phase I generates 93 cubic meters of waste water per day) falls in Red Category of industries (as per CPCB norms) and hence has to be located 2 kms away from high flood line of the river. The committee had then asked about the distance of the operational area from the High Flood Line of the river.
But it seems the committee asked too many questions…
Other industries asked to modify their designs were Reliance Cement, Reliance Industries at Patalganga, Deepak Fertilizers, several housing projects from Pune with their STPs within flood line of Mula Mutha Rivers, etc. Significantly, it also allows Irrigation Department to set up a lavish Water Sports Complex on Gangapur Dam in Nashik. Gangapur Dam is a drinking water source of the city as well as an Important Bird Area. It is so heavily silted (in the absence of any catchment area treatment works) that Nashik is now pushing for a new dam. The RRZ Policy had asked some strict regulations for this activity as it falls in category A1, but now it seems Gangapur Dam can be silted and polluted without any problems..
Maharashtra has some of the most polluted rivers in the country. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board has been ineffective in controlling industrial or domestic pollution from reaching rivers and this has devastated not only ecosystems and river dependent livelihoods, but also the health and wellbeing of people residing in the downstream.[xvi] The MPCB does not have the capacity to monitor and control pollution from individual units or MIDCs. In such a situation, scrapping a regulating policy like RRZ which was instrumental in some regulation of at least some impacts on rivers from their origin to the sea, is seen as a shocking move, taken for the mindless pushing of some specific industries.
In doing so, the government has dismantled a system which had evolved over 15 years and is now relying upon affidavits that industries submit to MPCB. It is clearly inadequate way of curtailing pollution and has the potential to completely destroy Maharashtra’s Rivers. Such affidavit system has a huge potential of furthering corruption. CM’s statement that RRZ did not mitigate any pollution is unbelievable, considering all these issues.[xvii]
The decision to scrap RRZ policy will be strongly protested and is open to legal challenge.
One hopes that the BJP-led government in Maharashtra is more concerned about the health and wellbeing of its common citizen and its rivers, rather than short sighted lobbying for some industries.
-Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP, email@example.com
[iii] These Basins include Agrani River basin, Bomaby Island Basin, Ghataprabha River Basin, Konkan Coastal Basin, Krishna River Basin, Kundalika River Basin, Lower Bhima River Basin, Lower Godavari River Basin, Nag River Basin, Narmada River Basin, Nira River Basin, North and New Bombay Basin, Patalganga River Basin, Satpati Coastal Basin, Sukna River Basin, Tapi River Basin, Ulhas River Basin, Upper Bhima River Basin, and Wainganga, Wardha and Penganga Basins.
[xv] http://www.afternoondc.in/city-news/danve-refutes-allegations-of-scrapping-rrz-law-for-private-company/article_130045, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/River-policy-scrapped-to-help-industrialists/articleshow/45973774.cms