“Garbage mafia big threat to smart city concept”- Adv Smita Sarode-Singalkar, NGT

Adv Smita Sarode-Singalkar is a practising socio-legal lawyer and is an executive member of the National Green Tribunal Bar Association (West zone).
Adv Smita spoke on the need to break the nexus between officials, politicians and the garbage mafia which is proving to be a serious hindrance in development of smart cities in the state.
How severe is the issue of solid waste management in the state?
A: Though the state government has plans to develop some big cities in the state as smart cities, the idea can be seen facing challenges because of management of solid waste. Garbage poses a new challenge in Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Dombivali, Nashik, Pune, Aurangabad, Kolhapur, Sangli-MirajKupwad, Nagpur and Latur.
What are the major issues related to solid waste management?
A: The constant neglect towards the management of garbage has already created a big threat and without tactfully handling this threat we cannot develop any city in the state as a smart city. Nexus between politicians, government officials and garbage mafia which is leading to corruption has created complications in dealing with the Municipal Solid Waste Management. The Government should not only invest funds for scientific segregation and outsource Solid Waste Management, but also monitor the process. Putting heaps of garbage on fire is the easiest solution adopted at the garbage depot situated at Deonar, Kalyan, Dombivali, Bhandewadi (Nagpur), Varvanti (Latur) and UraliDevachi MSW plant at Pune. Managing garbage by unscientific method and in an irresponsible way causes serious health problems.
Contamination of groundwater used for drinking purpose has become a serious issue in various parts of the state?
A: Due to unchecked excavation of groundwater and allowing unauthorized borewells, residents in 16 districts of Marathwada and Vidarbha are still dying due to skeletal fluorosis and teeth fluorosis. Water scarcity is a man-made consequence of neglect towards strictly regulating groundwater excavation and water contamination.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed the government to formulate a long term plan on this issue?
A: In spite of NGT’s directions to the government, it has  not yet formulated any such policy or plan. Now, the matter is filed for execution of NGT’s directions. Many industries pose health risks to the residents.
How intense is the problem of air pollution in Maharashtra?
A: According to a report recently submitted to the MPCB, it was stated that major sources of particulate matter emission impacting ambient air quality are automobiles, re-suspended dust and industries. The board will soon send this report to the PWD and the transport commissioner, besides the Central Pollution Control Board and the BMC.
The Government needs to increase the number of stations for better monitoring and identifying cities. We will be soon filing a case related to dust-affected cities and that will be first of its kind in legal intervention.
How to deal with the contamination of water in major rivers?
A: Constant neglect towards encroachments on river beds is one of the major environmental concerns. The water quality survey carried out by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) in association with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) found that almost half of the water quality stations recorded poor quality and the samples from the basin were contaminated with sewage discharge and fecal coliform. Just about 15 pc of the total observations recorded good to excellent water quality. Worse, high fluoride content was detected in the groundwater in Pune, Aurangabad, Solapur and Kolhapur. The survey has found water in 18 of a total of 46 rivers, which come under the Pune regional office covering Pune, Satara and Solapur districts, as ‘bad to very bad’ quality in 2013-14. In Maharashtra, out of the five river basin systems, 55% of the required water is sourced from the four river basins namely Krishna, Godavari, Tapi and Narmada, which lie to the east of the Western Ghats, while 45% of state’s water resources emanate from Western Ghats and are known as west flowing rivers. Given the pressure from urbanisation and industrialisation, there is a dire need to monitor and regulate water pollution in Maharashtra, the report said.
Rivers flowing in Pune district have now earned the dubious distinction of being the most polluted in the state?
A: Recent water quality report has pointed that Bhima upper sub basin in Pune district, which has Mutha, Pavana, Indrayani and Bhima rivers, as the most polluted in the state. It has put their water quality in the ‘bad to very bad’ category. Water flowing in other 18 rivers in Pune, Solapur and Sataratoo has been branded as ‘bad’. The survey has also found that the filth load on these water bodies has remained unchecked for years. These are government records which can be said as foolproof.
Rivers passing through various cities are being literally strangulated?
A: Natural course of water flow is getting changed, artificial land space rising in the river beds by putting debris is done and small water streams (Nallas) connecting rivers are dumped in the soil. We can see the NGT taking strict cognizance off such issues in the cases of River Mutha in Pune, Mithi River in Mumbai.
The use of ‘purse seine’ net for fishing purpose poses severe threat to marine life
A: Fishermen are sensitive and they live an environment-friendly life. Maharashtra occupies coastal stretches of nearly 72 kms around Arabian Sea. At present the traditional fishing community is facing threat of losing their livelihood due to mechanical dredging of fish and allowing use of huge purse seine nets. Surayawanshi Committee set up by the Government of Maharashtra has submitted its report which suggests stopping use of purse seine nets. But the Government seems to be reluctant to take into account this problem of traditional fishing community. As the purse seine nets used for fishing is destroying the aquaculture and damaging the environment, the case is being considered by the NGT.
There were incidents of government officials being attacked by the sand mafia?
A: The activity of sand mining has taken a nasty turn with senior government officials were attacked recently by the sand mafias at various places in the state. The uncontrolled and illegal sand mining is becoming an environmental issue here.  Unless and until we understand that preservation of sand is an important issue related to conservation of biological diversity, the government will not act seriously against rampant illegal sand mining. The state government has taken some steps after the intervention by Awaj Foundation against illegal sand mining.
Is decentralising the process of getting environment clearance aiding the process of conserving the environment?
A: Such decisions are working in favour of sand mafias who already have straight control over them. After NGT’s intervention, the state government had to announce that it will be declaring a new sand mining policy. But the question still remains as to why the government is getting into action only after the court’s intervention. Why aren’t the government authorities protecting and conserving environment?
 How do we address environmental concerns?
A: We should empower people affected by environmental hazards and create scope for disadvantaged groups in order to get their participation in the policy-making process. Environmental justice concept needs to become a day to day practice if we are expecting behavioural changes in citizens. My aim is establishment of environmental democracy through the use of judicial and quasi-judicial forums by various environment interest litigations. Most of the cases in which I am representing, raise issues related to environment friendly aspect of development.