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Riverbed construction illegal: NGT

 

The Times of India, Pune, 4th September, 2014

 

PUNE: The National Green Tribunal (NGT), western zone bench in Pune declared any construction within the blue floodline area along the riverbeds, sanctioned under a circular issued by the water resources department, as illegal.

 

On August 8, the water resources department had issued the circular authorizing all regional chief engineers of the department to issue a no objection certificate "if some unavoidable works are to be carried out by various departments in the prohibited zone or in the flood affected zone."

 

In its order passed last week, the bench, however, said that the circular is "not applicable retrospectively" and would have no impact on any cases pending before any green tribunal.

A petition filed before the tribunal had challenged the validity of the government circular asking whether construction of gardens and jogging tracks within the floodline of rivers be considered "unavoidable works" for the development of cities, towns and religious places.

 

"However, this circular was in contradiction of a previous circular passed in 1989 (by the irrigation department) which prohibited any construction in the blue floodline ? the area immediately next to the river bed. It had also placed certain restrictions on construction in the red floodline," said Asim Sarode, the legal counsel for the petitioner, Sarang Yadwadkar.

 

Sarode explained that the 1989 circular (similar restrictions have been placed in other states as well) was often cited by green activists to prevent the authorities from allowing illegal construction along riverbeds. Sarode himself has an appeal pending before the principal bench of the NGT in Delhi against alleged illegal construction activity in the Mutha riverbed.

 

"We had cited the 1989 circular in that case. The recent circular appears to be an attempt to circumvent such efforts from activists. It is important to remember that large scale construction along the river is a threat to its ecology," he said.

 

Pointing out that the recent circular endangers public safety by damaging the flood carrying capacity of rivers, the petition is also apprehensive that "it will encourage various corrupt practices."

 

"There have been so many cases where it has been seen that the land and flood plain have been reclaimed illegally. These spaces are being used for commercial gains or for construction of roads. This recent circular will only pave the way for such land grab on a large scale," Sarode said.