Water pollution is lurid, punish environment offenders: Parliament panel

September 4th, 2011 - 3:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) Describing water pollution in the country as “lurid”, a parliament panel has regretted that the criminal prosecution system for environmental offenders has not been successful with no one having faced imprisonment.

It has called upon the government to expedite the formation of National Environment Protection Authority (NEPA) so that penalties can be imposed on those committing offences that violate the environment.

The panel, while blaming untreated industrial waste as one of the main causes of groundwater pollution, also said that growing construction of septic tanks in the countryside has become a possible source of soil contamination.

It also expressed concern over some industries making acquifier recharge structures ostensibly for groundwater recharge, but ended up discharging their pollutants into it, adding to the groundwater pollution.

In its report submitted to parliament, the Standing Committee on Water Resources said that the scenario concerning water pollution in the country “is indeed lurid and increasingly worrisome”.

The panel expressed regret over information provided by the Ministry of Environment and Forests that the system of criminal prosecution for environmental offenders had achieved little success and “nobody has been given imprisonment till date on this account”.

The report on “augmentation of depleted ground water level, sustainable development, conservation, management, use of ground water and prevention of water pollution” was presented by the standing committee to Parliament last week.

“Given the fact that the present criminal prosecution system for environmental offenders has not been a success and that polluters of rivers/water bodies have been shielded behind the protection cover of the lengthy and time consuming legal process, the committee recommends the government to expedite the formation of National Environment Protection Authority which will hopefully impose penalty on offending industrialists, polluters,” the report said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said in his Independence Day speech that the government will constitute a National Environment Protection Authority to streamline the process of environment clearances.

The panel said in its report that there were 180,000 rural habitations suffering from water contamination and called upon the government to bring out a comprehensive national plan to contain the alarming trend of ground water contamination in the country.

“Empirical observations show the presence of flouride in ground water in excess of maximum permissible limit of 1.5 mg as prescribed by Bureau of Indian Standards in as many as 227 districts of the country. The situation in respect of other harmful chemical constituents like arsenic, nitrate, iron and also inherent salinity is reportedly alarming in certain agricultural belts. The committee notes that there are 1,79,999 habitations in the country having water problems associated with fluoride, arsenic, iron, salinity and nitrate,” the report said.

It said that ground water was also being polluted by man-made contaminants such as manganese, lead, chromium, cadmium as a result of mining activities or seepage from untreated industrial waste. The growing construction of septic tanks for want of sewer lines in the countryside has become another possible source of sub-soil contamination, it said.

“The committee are shocked to learn that some industries in the name of acquifier recharge made structures but actually ended up discharging the polluted water to the aquifer below the ground,” the report said and expressed dismay that the environment ministry had no scheme to tackle the problem.

Noting that over 80 percent of country’s rural domestic water requirement, 45 percent of created irrigation potential and about 50 percent of its urban and industrial water needs were being met from ground water, the report said that exploitation of ground water resources be so regulated as not to exceed the recharging capacities.

It said that artificial recharge of ground water and rain water harvesting were steps with a lot of potential to augment ground water resources.

Referring to apprehension of diversion of waters of some international rivers by riparian countries, the panel urged the government to furnish complete data of the major river systems in the country indicating volume of water in each system at the point where the river enters India and the volume at the point where it falls into the sea or flows into the territory of adjoining country.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at prashant.s@ians.in)

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