The Meghalaya High Court today directed the State government to report on the steps taken against persons who have commenced construction close to any water-body or any pristine forest or woodlands and later applied for permission from authorities.
The division bench was hearing the PIL regarding measures to protect Umiam Lake.
“The State should report on the steps taken in such regard so that would-be perpetrators are discouraged from embarking on any similar misadventure,” the High Court said.
During the hearing, the State government told the High Court that under the existing laws, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) has to be made before commercial ventures can begin any construction, particularly close to any water-body or any pristine forest or woodlands.
The State government also stated before the court that there is room to prosecute persons who may have commenced construction and thereafter applied for permission, irrespective of getting clearance from the local authorities for such purpose.
According to the High Court, apart from some of the existing monstrous constructions around the Umiam Lake, several others have come up in recent times or are in the process of coming up and such construction in gay abandon and with little respect for the sylvan surroundings and aesthetics would have continued had it not been for the present proceedings instituted in the High Court.
“Indeed, a report filed by the State on November 14, 2022 and authored by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board reveals that all three ongoing construction projects, which attracted the attention of this court in the first place, do not comply with any norms necessary for buildings coming up by or near the Lake,” the High Court said.
During today’s hearing, the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) informed the High Court that the local dorbars may have granted initial permission for the three major constructions to have come up, just as permission have been obtained by the car showrooms on the other side of the road from the Umiam Lake.
The KHADC also told the court that the waste generated at the operating commercial ventures and others coming up would either pollute the Umiam Lake waters or the river waters on the other side since none of them have appropriate sewage treatment or effluent treatment plants or waste management plans in place.
Both the State government and KHADC agreed that till such time that norms are in place in consultation with experts on environment, local citizens, architects and planners, the existing injunction should continue. Both the State government and the District Council suggested that it is only when all the upcoming commercial ventures indicated in the report furnish undertakings to comply with all norms and conditions set, may they be allowed to function.
Similarly, the car showrooms, resorts and hotels that have already commenced commercial operations should also be appropriately advised by the State Government and the District Council to take requisite measures to ensure that the beauty, the environment, the waters of the Lake and the rivers are not affected by their presence or continuing operations. For those commercial ventures which have already commenced their operations, the State, through the State Pollution Control Board or other agencies, and the District Council should afford them reasonable time to comply with strict norms and guidelines and, any failure to adhere to the same within such reasonable time, may result in the commercial operations being suspended.
As far as Moon View Cafe is concerned, the High Court said that despite the subsisting injunction in the present proceedings, construction activities have been noticed at the site in plain view in recent times.
The High Court has directed the State government and the local police to ensure that the injunction on further construction activity passed by the court is not violated.
The Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum which has been added as respondent No.6 in the matter told the court that though building norms have been introduced in the State, they are urban-centric and building norms for construction in the rural areas, particularly keeping in mind the distance from sacred groves, water-bodies and environmentally or ecologically fragile natural spots, have not been taken into consideration.
“It is hoped that the State, the District Council and informed citizens cooperate in ensuring that the natural beauty of the State and its vistas are preserved for the future generations and are not lost at the altar of a quick buck or in the name of development,” the High Court said.
The court also asked the State government to ensure that an alternative site is discovered for the already overflowing waste-dumping site and that no liquid or any other form of waste seeps into the already toxic waters of the Umiam. The next hearing will be held on February 2, 2023.
It may be noted that the report by the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board following the joint inspection carried out on November 10, 2022 with the District Council as per the order of the High Court has recommended strict conditions to be imposed in respect of Moon View Cafe, Ri-Shat Sngi Orchid Resort, Ever Banalari Guest House and Hills Cafe apart from Megha Automotive LLP, Highland Toyota and Rockland Motors LLP.
The report also dwells on the strict norms to be imposed on other hotels and resorts surrounding the Umiam Lake.