Maharashtra Government informed the Bombay High Court that the Ministry of Information and Forests (MoEF) has set up an expert committee to frame a River Regulation policy to protect the banks of rivers, lakes, creeks and tributaries in the wake of constructions.
The Government said in an affidavit that construction within 50 metres of the sea coast was banned as it fell within the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ). However, it admitted that there was no policy to disallow construction of houses along the banks of lakes, river, creeks and tributaries.
As the State informed that MoEF was engaged in preparing such a policy, a bench of Justices V M Kanade and P D Kode asked MoEF to file a reply within two weeks on the status of the expert committee’s study.
The judges also asked the State to declare within two weeks what steps it proposed to take in this regard.
The bench was hearing a petition filed by Vanashakti, an NGO, asking for a direction to the State to ban construction within 100 metres of flood level of all rivers, lakes, creeks and 50 metres of tributaries.
The petitioner argued that under Water Protection Act, the industries are not allowed to discharge affluents into the waters, but there is no policy to ban residential complexes from disposing of garbage into the rivers or lakes.
Irreparable damage is caused to the environment by creating hindrances on the banks of natural resources such as rivers, lakes, creeks and tributaries by constructing walls or barriers by housing projects, the PIL alleged.
Referring to a government notification, the PIL said that as of now there is a ban only on industries from 500 metres to eight kms on either side of rivers. The PIL urged that policy should be changed and this ban should also extend to residential and commercial projects.
The PIL further alleged that a wall running up to two kms had been constructed by a housing project along the banks of river Ulhas, near Dombivali, resulting in changing the course of flood waters of the river. In doing so, many areas have become flood-prone, it said.
The petition said that if such constructions are allowed to continue along the river banks, the lives and properties of the local people would be endangered. Also, there would be no check on sewage going from these projects into the rivers, the PIL alleged.