Madras High Court, NGT turn saviours for water bodies, marshlands in Tamil Nadu – DTNext

Chennai News


Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary V. Irai Anbu had no choice other than to burn the midnight oil and meticulously prepare a list of encroachers who had occupied the water bodies of the state or else to appear before the Madras High Court for a dressing down.

He preferred to work on the encroachment details of the water bodies in all the 333 taluks of the state and submitted before the court a Compact Disk (CD) with the details of the encroachments in the state. The evidence and the details provided were startling, 10556 acres of water bodies encroached for residential purposes, 1500 acres of water bodies encroached for commercial purposes, and 32,024 acres encroached for cultivation.

These facts were lying underneath a heap of files and it required strict intervention from the first bench of the Madras High Court comprising of acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice P.D. Adikesavalu for the Chief secretary to produce these details.

The state government represented by the Chief Secretary admitted that these details were not perfect but close to reality and the exact details of the encroachments would be submitted very soon with which the court was satisfied.

The big question from environmentalists, conservationists and nature lovers is that had the court not intervened, whether the government would have shut its eyes to the blatant encroachment that had taken place over the years and the answer is a big Yes. The government had sat on the issues and both the AIADMK and the DMK governments are the culprits. These encroachments of water bodies did not happen in a day or two but over a period of time.

The Madras High Court has directed the Government through the Chief Secretary to immediately remove the encroachments and to ensure that water is flowing freely through the water bodies and the lost water bodies are retrieved.

The Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal has been a watchdog over the various encroachments that had taken place over marshy land and mangroves considered as the oxygen parlours. The bench had pulled up the Government on several occasions regarding the encroachments at the Pallikaranai marshy land and had sought minute details on the encroachments that had taken place. It had ordered the government to act strictly against those who had encroached on the marshy land.

The action of the Southern Bench has led the state government to send a recommendation to the Centre to declare Pallilkaranai marshy land as a ‘Ramsar’ site. The Ramsar Secretariat in Switzerland declares wetlands as Ramsar sites after assessing proposals from a country’s administrative authority and in the case of India, it is the Union government. The Union Minister of State for Environment, Forest, and Climate Ashwini Kumar Choubey told the Lok Sabha during the winter session of Parliament that it had received a proposal from the Tamil Nadu Wetland Authority for declaring Pallikaranai a Ramsar site.

Mukundan Iyer from the Environmental Protection Group, Erode, told IANS, “It is great to know that the Tamil Nadu Wetland Authority had sent a proposal to the Union government to declare Pallikaranai marshy land as a Ramsar site. The government and all the bodies under it had closed their eyes while blatant encroachment of wetlands and water bodies was taking place.  Thanks to judicial intervention, be it the Madras High Court or the Southern bench of the NGT, the government of the day had to act. This is a classic example of how proper intervention by the judiciary can change things.”

The NGT has also pulled up the state government represented by the Chennai district collector and the Joint Commissioner of Chennai Police over their failure to prevent illegal sand mining on the banks of the Cooum river in Chennai. The green tribunal has asked both the officials to appear before it if no action is taken against illegal mining of sand from the Cooum river banks before December 21.

A senior bureaucrat told IANS, “Our hands were tied and we were not able to act but after the Madras High Court and the NGT started intervening, the government had to act and things have changed for the better. There will be stringent action against encroachers and water bodies and marshy lands have a possibility of revival. This I can say is only due to the judicial intervention. This has saved the water bodies and marshy lands of Tamil Nadu from being destroyed.”