The environment is a topic of discussion at various platforms in this era. The world together is fighting against climate change. Recently Greta Thunberg won Noble Peace Prize for children for her speech in Unite Nations blaming the authorities and the people for degrading the environment and making it unbearable to the coming generations. The court and legislations keep trying their best to create a healthy and clean environment. The Delhi Health emergency also depicts how the environment is screaming for help. Even the water crisis in Tamil Nadu is also an alarm towards the depleting conditions of the environment.
Supreme Court recently, decided on a matter related to water bodies and its allotment to private individuals.
Facts Of The Case
In Jitendra Singh v. Ministry of Environment and Ors., the apex court heard the appeal filed by the individual against the order passed by the NGT in 2017.
The appellant is a lawyer and an environmentalist of his village, Saini which falls n the National capital region. The matter arose when the Respondents using excavators and other heavy machinery attempted to forcibly take over possession of ‘common pond’ of the village which was being used by the villagers for a century. After the objection of the villagers, the appellant made a formal complaint to District Collector pointing out all the documentary evidence and claiming that the pond belonged to villagers, but there was no response from the office of District Collector.
After this, the appellant was left with no other legal recourse the approaching the NGT with his case. In the hearing before the NGT, the appellant claimed that the acquired lands have been given to private individuals for commercial purposes and to prove the claim over the pond the appellant also put forward all the documentary evidence including Khasra nos. The Appellant claimed that water bodies are under the purview and control of Gram Sabha under Section 117 of UP. Zamindari Abolition and Land Reform Act, 1950 and therefore these lands cannot be acquired or transferred. He claimed that the project would hamper the environment and also said that mandatory environmental clearance was not obtained by the respondents. During the proceedings, the respondent started to filing up certain ponds and created a new water body area bigger than the disputed pond.
The NGT said that the appellant’s grievances have been readdressed with the construction of the new pond and decided the case not adhering to the evidence and merits provided by the appellant.
The appellant has filed the appeal in Supreme Court against this order of NGT.
Contentions In Supreme Court
The appellant sided with Article 21 which embodies ‘Right to Clean and Healthy Environment’, Article 48 –A and Article 51A(g) of the Constitution claiming that the State bears a responsibility to protect the environmental degradation which includes water bodies like lakes and ponds. The appellant put forward the fact that the pond is located near Aravalli hills and the water table in this area is low. The existence of flora and fauna would get disturbed. The appellant claimed that the respondents are acting negligently towards the environment and violating the right to clean and the wholesome environment under Article 21 of the Constitution.
The respondent counsel relied on the order of Government dated 3-06-2016 that the private individuals or third parties could destruct existing ponds in the assurance that an alternate water body which will be 25% larger than before. The respondent also claimed that the appellant is trying to hinder development in the area as he wants to use the land for his own personal use. The respondents also claimed that they paid 25 crores as sale consideration for leasehold right over acquired areas.
Findings And Judgement
The bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Surya Kant heard the contentions of the parties. They held that ‘it is not permissible for the State to alienate common water bodies for industrial activities, under the guise of providing alternatives’.
The court held in regard with the State Government Order of 2016 that 25% larger artificial body can be constructed in place of destruction of the natural water body is not in the spirit of the Constitution and therefore rendered impressibly. The creation of artificial water bodies is a great idea but the destruction of natural water bodies could lead to uncertain disturbance in the flora and fauna around the area.
“Water bodies, specifically, are an important source of fishery and much needed potable water. Many areas of this country perennially face a water crisis and access to drinking water is woefully inadequate for most Indians. Allowing such invaluable community resources to be taken over by a few is hence grossly illegal,” the bench said.
The court upheld the philosophy that ‘Water is an Elixir of life’. The Court and legislations need to be aware of its consequences to the environment as a whole. The country together should aim at a healthy environment and for that, it is important that these water bodies, flora fauna be to protected and safeguarded as much as possible.
Apart from the authorities, it is very necessary that people realize their responsibility towards society and the environment. It is their duty towards the protection of the environment which will garner more Rights to people.[googlepdf url=”https://libertatem.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/20827_2019_3_1501_18466_Judgement_25-Nov-2019.pdf” download=”Download Judgement PDF” width=”100%” height=”900″]
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