By: Kamala Kelkar
The National Green Tribunal on Monday pulled up several government officials and threatened some with a fine for again failing to provide evidence that their agencies can safely rebuild in Uttarakhand.
The NGT’s legal aide had accused several agencies of permitting rampant constructions, including hydel power projects, on vulnerable hills and waterways, which precipitated the devastation caused by the floods in June.
The NGT had sought explanation and analysis of the causes of the disaster as well as measures drafted to usher progressive re-development. But the officials failed to provide, as on earlier occasions, a single example of how they were tackling ecological restoration, and got an earful from NGT chief Justice Swatanter Kumar, again.
“Is it proper that you are playing with lives of the people of Uttarakhand and you don’t even care to undertake a study?” Kumar asked when the counsel for the Border Roads Organisation contended that an environmental assessment was not required. “How come all roads of Uttarakhand slid in this disaster?”
Kumar rapped the environment and forests ministry for failing to swiftly set up committees to evaluate and monitor environmental impact of hydel power projects. “Half the judicial energy is spent on waking up the government,” Kumar said, and asked the ministry to expedite the process.
He called a National Highway Authorities of India report that highways in Uttarakhand are not vulnerable to landslides “factually incorrect”. “We grant a last opportunity to the chairman of NHAI to file his personal affidavit,” he said.
Both the NHAI and the BRO have 10 days to respond to the NGT, Kumar said, or they will be fined Rs 25,000 each.
Kumar then turned to the lawyer representing Uttarakhand. The counsel said he had filed a 180-page reply but it was in Hindi and needed to be translated. Kumar granted him time but said he had a question.
“We are months ahead of what happened during that unfortunate time. Can you tell us one step you have taken toward restoration which can be seen?”
The counsel answered that his state had issued warnings to prohibit illegal construction. But Kumar said such this was about prevention, not restoration, and gave the state 10 days to file a more appropriate answer.
Kumar remarked he was “surprised” that though livelihoods of people in Uttarakhand depend on comprehensive environmental planning, government officials are moving too slowly. He scheduled the next hearing for September 26.