AGRA: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has sought to know how some high-rise structures on the Yamuna river banks got the no-objection certificate. The NGT has also sought a response on the dumping of hazardous waste in the Yamuna, despite a clear-cut ban on this practice.
The NGT was acting on a complaint from DK Joshi, who also serves on a Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee tasked with looking into Yamuna and water-related issues. In his complaint, Joshi mentioned that tall buildings on the banks of the river exposed lives to risk, especially in case of flooding or earthquake.
The NGT has instructed Agra divisional commissioner, the chief of Agra Development Authority (ADA) and the municipal commissioner to conduct spot inspection and file a report, before the next hearing of the matter, scheduled for May 26.
The NGT has directed the UP government and the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate to furnish details of projects to which no-objection certificates were granted, in similar circumstances.
The NGT issued notices to all 14 respondents, including the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change, the UP government, the UP state irrigation department, revenue authorities, police, forest department, Agra Nagar Nigam, the state pollution control board and district administration to file their replies in two weeks.
In a 200-page petition, Joshi said the Yamuna floodplains have been usurped by the land mafia in connivance with Agra Development Authority, the district administration and other departments concerned, in parts of Mau, Jaganpur, Khaspur, Dayal Bagh, Sikandarpur, Poeya, Ghatwasan, Naraich and many other parts of the city without any environment clearance or project impact assessment.
He said the river is filled with solid waste, and then buildings are allowed to sprout on the land. Joshi said the practice was rampant, despite the state government order of 2010 directing authorities to stop illegal construction and trespass into the floodplain zone.
Citing an Allahabad High Court order of 2011 prohibiting construction within 500m of the horizontal spread of water of the Yamuna, the petitioner said residential colonies like Aparna River View Colony, Manglam Shila, Manglam Estate, Pushpanjali Heights, Kalyani Heights, Pushpanjali Seasons, Rajshree Estate, Jawahar Bagh Phase-II and Vaibhav Garden had sprung up within 50 metres of the Yamuna.
Joshi said land record manuals of the state government had not been updated since 1952-53, and the land mafia had illegally purchased floodplains of the Yamuna.
Joshi said no effective steps were being taken to keep Yamuna free from encroachment and pollution. He said almost Rs 2,000 crore had been spent under the head of Taj Trapezium Zone and Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). There was World Bank support for some city projects, but all this had not helped prevent encroachment of the Yamuna banks or its pollution.
"Agra Development Authority has been sanctioning layout plans and expansion of construction works within the floodplain, in some cases, almost touching the flow of the river. Most of these plans were approved in 2013 and 2014. The authority has not even verified whether constructions of more than 20,000 sq m have obtained environmental clearance," Joshi told TOI. He added that in 2013, ADA had issued orders for the demolition of 59 establishments in the floodplain zone. No action, however, has yet been taken to bring down these buildings.
He said Agra has faced several floods in the last 100 years. The river breached its banks in Agra in 1924, 1947, 1955, 1956, 1967, 1971, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1988, 1995 and 2010.
"Devastating floods occurred in 1978 when the river entered the Taj complex, forcing its closure for two days. Agra water supply was stopped for weeks together. Even in September 2010, the flood situation in Agra took an alarming turn. Water level in the Yamuna crossed the medium flood level of 152.09 metres, submerging most of the Taj Heritage Corridor. Water supplies to half of the city were shut off," Joshi said.
Joshi said Agra had better learn lessons from the flooding of Kashmir in 2014, because of rampant construction close to the Jhelum.
Joshi urged the tribunal to pass orders to restore the floodplain zone in its natural form and demolish all illegal encroachment. He also sought restraining orders on any subsequent construction and land conversion in future, to halt further damage to the ecology of the Yamuna.