The problem of toxic arsenic and fluoride in groundwater not addressed: NGT

News Excerpt:

The problem of toxic arsenic and fluoride in groundwater across various areas of the country is not being effectively addressed by the Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA). 

Central Ground Water Authority: 

  • It has been constituted under Section 3 (3) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, to regulate and control the development and management of groundwater resources in the country.
  • Powers & Functions:
    • Exercise of powers under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for issuing directions and taking measures;
    • To resort to penal provisions contained in the Act.
    • To regulate and control the management and development of groundwater in the country and to issue necessary regulatory directions for the purpose.
    • Exercise of powers under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for appointing officers.

Review of CGWA report by NGT:

  • From the report, it appears that the CGWA has taken no concrete steps to address the problem.
  • As per NGT, the CGWA report should clearly state where concrete steps have been taken to address arsenic and fluoride in groundwater or whether alternative drinking water is being provided to the people there.
  • The bench of NGT has taken suo motu cognizance of the matter based on a report. 
    • The report said groundwater contamination due to arsenic is prevalent in 230 districts across 25 states of India, while that caused by fluoride is prevalent in 469 districts across 27 states.
  • The NGT observed that despite these elements having a very bad effect on the human body, the CGWA has not installed arsenic and fluoride removal plants in these areas.
  • The bench noted that CGWA has a total of 16 chemical laboratories in India, of which 10 labs are certified by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories. 
    • About 27,500 to 32,500 water samples are tested annually through these 16 labs.
    • These labs examine 15 major chemical parameters. These include pH, EC, calcium, magnesium, total hardness, sodium, potassium, iron, CO3, HCo3, SO4, PO4 and heavy trace elements like iron, manganese, copper, cadmium, chromium, lead, arsenic and uranium.
  • The bench also observed that some labs do not have a sample testing facility in Delhi and need four months’ time to procure testing kits.

National Green Tribunal:

  • The National Green Tribunal was established on 18 October2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources, including enforcement of any legal rights relating to the environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. 
  • It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues. 
  • The Tribunal is not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but is guided by principles of natural justice.
  • The Tribunal's dedicated jurisdiction in environmental matters shall provide speedy environmental justice and help reduce the burden of litigation in the higher courts. 
  • The Tribunal is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing of the same.
  • New Delhi is the principal place of sitting in the Tribunal, and Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata, and Chennai are the other four places of sitting in the Tribunal.
  • Chairperson:  Prakash Shrivastava

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