The State government has agreed that till such time the guidelines as to construction around the Umiam Lake are recommended and issued, no further construction will come up around the Umiam Lake from a level up to 50m from the highest water level.
The government gave the assurance today before the division bench of the Meghalaya High Court during hearing of a PIL related to protection of Umiam Lake.
During today’s hearing, the State government informed that a notification has been issued on January 19, 2023 constituting a 15-member expert committee to advise the State government on measures to be taken for restoration and protection of water bodies and for laying down guidelines for protection of water bodies in the State and formulating norms for future construction in and around Umiam Lake.
Advocate-General Amit Kumar informed the court that the expert committee’s report will be submitted to the Forest and Environment Department of the State for the same to be vetted, considered and implemented to the extent deemed appropriate.
The one striking feature of the notification is that though the expert committee has been constituted in respect of water bodies across the State, the guidelines as to construction are limited to the Umiam Lake and not to other water bodies.
The High Court suggested that it would be ideal if the authority to recommend guidelines is extended to other water bodies as well since construction around a water body ultimately leads to its degradation and possible extinction.
“It is hoped that such a policy is also extended to the other existing water bodies so that further degradation does not take place in the interregnum before recommendations and guidelines are issued for rejuvenation, recharging or maintenance of the remainder of the many water bodies in the State,” the court said.
The other aspect is that the expert committee does not contain members of the Autonomous District Councils.
According to the High Court, since the land across the State, except the European ward in Shillong, belongs to the tribal communities and the Autonomous District Councils administer the relevant areas, it is imperative that for water bodies falling within the jurisdiction of one or the other Autonomous District Council, designated members of the relevant Autonomous District Councils be co-opted on the sub-committee pertaining to such water body for the sub-committee to report to the expert body that has been constituted by the notification of January 19, 2023 for the final recommendations to be made by such expert committee as already constituted.
Further, senior lawyer S P Mahanta, who has been assisting the High Court in this matter, suggested that the expert body should include members conversant with aquatic animal life.
On this, the High Court said that the expert committee already constituted should take the assistance of experts in such regard since the conservation of the water implies the conservation of life in the water as well.
The matter has been listed for hearing on March 16 when a further report will be filed by the State government including as to whether meetings of the expert committee have already been convened and the follow-up action taken thereafter.
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