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FPJ Legal: ‘We are doomed,’ laments Gujarat HC on Sabarmati river pollution

11:27 PM Dec 03, 2021 | Darshan Desai

Ahmedabad: “We are doomed and only some divine power can help. We have no divine powers, but we will not give up. We have the power of the pen.” These are the words of Justice JB Pardiwala of the Gujarat High Court who grilled the State Pollution Control Board on Friday for the severe industrial pollution in the Sabarmati river.

A division bench of Justice Pardiwala and Justice Vaibhavi Nanavati are hearing a suo motu case of illegal discharge of industrial effluents in the Sabarmati river through a curious mix of sewage and trade effluent lines.

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Justice Pardiwala pulled up the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), which admitted yet again that none of the seven common effluent treatment plants (CETPs) in industrial estates in Ahmedabad is effective.

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“You have created an irreversible situation,” Justice Pardiwala said, and added that even if the GPCB had taken up the overhaul of one CETP every year, the situation would have been better.

“This is not a car that you take it to the garage and is repaired immediately,” the judge asserted, and added, “But we will not give up.”

The court asked the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to continue its drive against industrial units polluting the Sabarmati river and asserted, “if there are any threats or pressures from politicians, report to the court.”

“Nobody will touch you, walk in even at midnight if anyone comes in your way,” Justice JB Pardiwala said.

In an earlier hearing, the high court had asked the AMC to snap all illegal sewerage lines ferrying trade effluents into the Sabarmati. The AMC reported on Friday that it had snapped 263 out of 452 illegal connections, which have been identified so far.

The bench asked the GPCB to revoke licence of the CETP operators or revoke their bank guarantees as the seven CETPs were not functioning effectively.

A joint task force (JTF) constituted by the court had submitted its report that industrial units were illegally discharging untreated effluents in the river. A task force member and eminent environmental activist Rohit Prajapati informed the court that though CETP authorities had framed rules and norms, they were not being implemented. He cited the instance of the river stretch near Vishala where the oxygen level was found to be zero.

He asserted that industrial units were connecting untreated CETP discharge into STP pipelines. And this has been permitted by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC).

The court asked the GPCB why no action had been taken against the CETP operators for violating norms. The Board pleaded that the CETP contract was till March 2022 and it couldn’t revoke the bank guarantee. The court was of the view that the board revoke license of the CETP operators and set an example.

When the GPCB said there would be a hue and cry if the CETP was shut down, the court shot back that there was no need to make noises and shut down all industrial units. This would be the only way to make the polluters realise the damage they had done.

Some individual units have approached the court against the Corporation action of disconnecting their affluent discharge pipelines.

Out of 14 domestic STP plants of the AMC, only three are functioning. Though only seven outfalls are permitted, many outfalls are found in the river. The court has asked all industrial units to approach the Joint Task Force and take fresh samples. Only after that they should apply fresh for permission to discharge treated effluent in the river.

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