|CITATION||2018 SCC OnLine Guj 1392|
|COURT||High Court of Gujarat|
|JUDGES/CORAM||Chief Justice R. Subhash Reddy and Justice Vipul M. Pancholi|
|DATE OF JUDGEMENT||11.09.2018|
Since a long time, Public Interest Litigations (or PILs) have been an effective tool to protect our environment. The present case is yet another case in the list of environmental PILs to protect our constantly degrading environment, specifically the water bodies.
The facts of the case are as follows: The case of the petitioner was relating to the Tapi River, one of the major rivers of peninsular India with a length of around 724 kilometers and one of the largest rivers that pass through the State of Gujarat. It was pointed out that the Tapi river passes through the city of Surat and the water from the river was used for drinking, irrigation, and industrial purposes. It was alleged that a number of idols were being immersed in the aforesaid river during religious festivals. It was further stated that above 60,000 Ganesha idols were installed in the city of Surat during 2017 for Ganesh Chaturthi and a majority of idols were immersed in river Tapi, causing health and environment problems for the residents of Surat. Additionally, after Ganesh Visarjan was over, every year many idols floated in the Tapi river. Moreover, as such idols were prepared with plaster of Paris by using toxic and chemical color for painting the idols, the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) rose to alarming levels after immersion day of religious festivals. It was alleged that immersion of idols not only causes health and environmental problems, but such activity affected aquatic life also. Though certain directives were issued by 8th respondent – Central Pollution Control Board and other authorities- such guidelines were not implemented strictly.
Thus, a Writ Petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution of India by way of Public Interest Litigation by Surat Citizens Council Trust, i.e., the petitioner, for preserving the river Tapi from pollution created through idol immersions in it.
The main issue in the case was the immersion of idols in the Tapi river leading to pollution of the same despite the guidelines issued by the Central Pollution Control Board.
The contention of the Respondent
In view of the guidelines issued by the Central Pollution Control Board and to protect the environment, all idols were being immersed in artificial ponds, which were temporarily created in different zones of Surat Municipal Corporation.
Summary of court decision and judgment
During the court proceedings, ban orders were issued by the Surat Municipal Corporation on the immersion of idols in the Tapi River. Additionally, the Court directed the respondents to ensure that immersion of idols was not allowed during any festivals; directed the Municipal Corporation to give wide-spread publication about the artificial ponds created and undertake public awareness program through newspaper and electronic media.
The issue of river pollution has been hovering around for years but recently, there has been an increased awareness about the same and the judiciary has taken steps to prevent pollution of rivers. A major contributor to river pollution is the immersion of idols during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi.
The first national guidelines were issued by the Central Pollution Control Board in 2010. These guidelines led to many states issuing their respective guidelines and resolutions on the subject matter. All guidelines run on the same thread: idols must be made of natural substances and not PoP; and, artificial tanks or ponds must be created by Municipalities.
Though it is a duty of the citizen to protect and improve the natural environment a similar duty is imposed on the State to protect the natural resources of the country of which it is the trustee. The same has been held in the case of Association for Environment Protection v. State of Kerala. In another case in the same year as the present case, the Bombay High Court issued directions to Nashik Municipal Corporation to ensure that the Godavari river remained pollution-free after immersion of Ganesh idols had made the river toxic. Thus, in line with the above events and reasons, I believe the Court issued proper directions for the protection of river Tapi.
Rivers in India should be protected from the pollution that may harm the river. This kind of writ petition as in the present case is a very effective tool to protect our nature. Using eco-friendly idols and immersing them only in artificial ponds should be ensured by all.
Article 51A(g), Constitution of India.
 Public Trust Doctrine.
 (2013) 7 SCC 226.
 Rajesh Madhukar Pandit v. Nashik Municipal Corporation 2018 SCC OnLine 6435.