New Delhi: A halt on diesel vehicles in Delhi and cracking its whip with a slew of directions for restoring the pristine glory of the Ganga reflected the activist mode of National Green Tribunal which in 2015 got global attention in its endeavour for pollution-free environment.
The tribunal, which has been a busy hub of environmental issues, ranging from challenges to clearance granted to projects of big industries to protection of eco-sensitive areas like Rohtang Pass and Kaziranga National Park, achieved a feat of pronouncing 56 judgments in a single day on December 10 by settling 209 cases.
Barely five years into existence, the NGT's pro-active role was noticed by international media which praised its speedy redressal of pollution issues as an elated Chairman Swatanter Kumar stated that the green panel disposed of 82 per cent pending cases in 2014.
The extraordinary situations arising due to extreme environmental degradation demanded extraordinary measures and some of the tribunal's decisions like the ban on registration of new diesel-run vehicles in the national capital created controversy, confusion and hogged the limelight.
However, the NGT had the last laugh as the Supreme Court later put the stamp of approval on the steps taken by it to bring the pollution level down in the capital which has achieved a dubious distinction of world's most polluted city.
The tribunal also lived up to the expectation and trust bestowed on it by the apex court while delegating the panel with the issue of Ganga and it acted tough against the polluting industries by ordering their closure.
The green panel, which unveiled its plan to clean Ganga from Gomukh to Bay of Bengal, imposed complete ban on plastic from Gomukh to Haridwar and announced that if any hotel, dharamshala or ashram release waste into the river, it will have to pay environmental compensation of Rs 5,000 per day.
Rafting and camping activities in Uttarakhand also came under the scanner of NGT which banned camping activity in the entire belt of Kaudiyala to Rishikesh on the banks of Ganga till the regulatory regime comes into force but allowed the adventure sport rafting.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's clean Ganga project also got a boost when NGT directed tanneries situated in Kanpur along the river to strictly comply with mandatory pollution norms and warned them of closure.
Keeping in tune with pledge of sustainable development, the green panel indicated that its orders would not come in way of the economic growth and in one such decision it stayed the order of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board to close Coca Cola's bottling plant in Prime Minister's Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi.
While, cracking the whip on those polluting Yamuna, the green bench passed a slew of directions including a fine of Rs 5,000 on individuals spotted throwing waste or religious items in the river and held that every household in the city will now have have to pay a minimum environment compensation of Rs 100 for generating sewage.
In another significant order, it banned immersion of idols except those made from bio-degradable material and held that no commercial/construction activity except floriculture and silviculture would be allowed by any of the authorities on the flood plain of Yamuna river.
In southern India, the tribunal directed the Andhra Pradesh government not to carry out any operation of clearing of land near the floodplains on the banks of river Krishna for construction of a new state capital without obtaining the environmental clearance.
Irked by the blame game by various departments within the state, it imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on Delhi government for not following its orders on implementation of “Maili se Nirmal Yamuna Revitalisation Project 2017”. Cracking the whip on two commercial projects in Bengaluru, the tribunal imposed Rs 117.35 crore and Rs 22.5 crore as damages on two companies for degrading the environment, which was later stayed by the Supreme Court.
Even a 450-bed super-specialty hospital in Faridabad town of Haryana faced the ire of the tribunal which quashed its environmental clearance while slapping a fine of almost Rs 12 crore as damages for degrading the ecology.
The NGT slammed Assam government for failure to curb encroachments and commercial activities on National Highway-37 which passes through Kaziranga as it restrained Numaligarh Refinery Limited from carrying out any construction activity in the No-Development Zone in the national park.
Concerned over rapid pace of melting glaciers and blackening of snow, the green panel imposed complete ban on commercial activities including para-gliding, snow scooters, horses riding etc and limited the number of vehicles passing through the 13,050-feet Rohtang pass while ordering installation of CNG station at Manali.
NGT, which banned rat-hole mining in Meghalaya, allowed transportation of coal with due “checks and balances” and sought coal mining plan from the state government with complete design and scientific methods to be adopted for safety of mines and its workers.
The construction of the 300 MW Lakhwar multi-purpose project being built by Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited (UJVNL) and 2880 MW Dibang Multipurpose Project in Arunachal Pradesh also came under green panel's scrutiny which sought response from the government on the issue.
The tribunal, which refused to decommission the 400-megawatt Vishnu Prayag Hydro Electric Project, directed all nine hydro-power projects in Uttarakhand to build their own sewage treatment plants (STPs) and make them operational within three months.
It also ordered a halt to work on construction of a fifth tunnel at the site on Sawra Kuddu hydroelectric project in Himachal Pradesh and sought government's response to maintain a minimum of 15 per cent river flow downstream by hydroelectric projects across India.