By: Kamala Kelkar
Thirty-four restaurants in Delhi’s trendy neighborhood Hauz Khas Village, were ordered to close by a national court Friday because they are operating illegally without the necessary pollution permits.
The popular eateries have fallen foul of laws mandating that they treat their wastewater before it hits the drains, according to the National Green Tribunal, a government justice system which rules on breaches of environmental law.
The tribunal added that the restaurants do not have the necessary emissions permits required for eateries that seat more than 36 people.
Justice P. Jyothimani, heading the National Green Tribunal bench, said in court Friday that the restaurants are causing a nuisance to the neighborhood in South Delhi. The area, a popular nightspot on the edge of a lake, has seen a rapid growth in the number of restaurants in recent years.
The judge criticized the regulatory agency the Delhi Pollution Control Committee for not enforcing its own rules in the area.
“Considering the seriousness of the issue, we have no doubt that this unauthorized mushroom development of restaurants would not have come without the knowledge of the [Delhi Pollution Control Committee,]” Justice Jyothimani said. “We hereby direct the closure of all the restaurants situated in Hauz Khas area which are running without proper permission from the appropriate authorities till the next date of hearing.”
He scheduled the next hearing for Tuesday, and ordered that the DPCC’s member secretary Sandeep Mishra to attend.
The environmental tribunal’s orders often go unheeded however. Bureaucrats in various agencies affected by the orders say the demands are too great and the workforce is too thin to implement them.
“I can’t stop what I’m doing and issue these orders right this second and make sure all their doors are closed and locked,” Mr. Mishra told India Real Time Friday. “These things take time. We need until Monday at least.”
So people will likely still be able to eat in the trendy village area this weekend.
In August, Mr. Mishra had warned all the restaurants they were violating the law, issuing notices that if they did not update their operations in line with the legislation, they would be subject to closure. So far 19 have responded with plans to comply, but none of them have actually obtained the necessary permit, according to Mr. Mishra and lawyers representing DPCC.
The issue was brought to light by a resident of Old Delhi Pankaj Sharma, who describes himself as an environmental and heritage activist. He filed a petition at the tribunal in July, pointing out the restaurants’ violations.
“We welcome today’s landmark decision of National Green Tribunal on the Hauz Khas Village issue which sends a strong message for maintaining environmental sustainability of Delhi,” Mr. Sharma wrote in a statement.
Mr. Sharma also has a separate case pending at the tribunal in which he accuses the restaurants of illegally extracting groundwater. The activist has filed a case with the Delhi High Court which notes that the village is a protected area because of its proximity to a monument.