Waste-Management - Stop making Pithoragarh a next Gas Chamber : A call for change

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"Environment is human’s best friend which if dropped by the wayside becomes the recipe for a human disaster which cannot be changed back in reality but in hindsight."                                                -  Hitesh Bhatt                                                                                 -     

This petition intends to pull out all stops and initiate a no-holds-barred attempt to address a very unfortunate situation unraveling in the city for which I totally count on your support. The details related to the present issue of astronomical public importance are given forth in minutiae’s in the forthcoming paragraphs:

At the very outset, it’s important to know the purpose of this online petition. I want to put the purpose and intent behind the drafting of this petition on the line.

This petition is a marked and concentrated effort sought to raise forth the spree of problems our city i.e., Pithoragarh is engulfed and attacked with. The present problem which has gotten increased by leaps and bounds is one of waste management and lack of any stable, environmentally conducive and a scientific treatment machinery for the same in the city.

In light of the above, the matter of sublime importance which endangers, threatens, besmirch and cast aspersions on the beauty of Pithoragarh is of environmental pollution, unceasing damage to flora and fauna and unstopped destruction of natural resources being done rampantly and continuously in consequence of giving fire to the limitless repository of garbage and wastage, regardless of its distinctive form being dumped at a faraway place at Nainipatal. 

Whether the place can at all be called as remote and far away in view of the present day situation is a different question altogether. Who is responsible for this is the most fundamental question? Let's find out why is it happening? And what is it all about?

For the uninitiated, Nainipatal stands as the dumping site for all the waste, in whichever manner it’s being collected and aggregated, to be treated over there. The word ‘treatment’ hereinbefore used doesn’t mean treatment of any measure involving the use of mainstream, ecologically viable, scholarly approved and state of the art technologies for its effective disposal prescribed by a string of legislations and enunciated in many international instruments of environmental protection and resurrection thereof. This sounds unbelievable but is true to the core. 

The very scheme of waste treatment in Pithoragarh as it stands today flies in the face of all entrenched and embedded environmental norms. The garbage waste dumped in the designated site includes solid waste, liquid waste, degradable and non-degradable waste, chemically harmful waste in form of syringes, medicines and even the most dangerous toxic chemical products.

One can simply assume the dumping of whatever waste one can think of in human life. It's all under the sun and out in the open like a prized possession put on a display which soils, maculates, disparages and tarnishes our reputation (our esteem is not delinked from the city's pride and repute) on everyday basis. 

The common method employed to treat this pile of never-ending garbage is by burning the same (though, the authorities never accept it) and thus causing boundless and inexplicable release of pollutants which in turn converts into a thick layer of smoke which makes it impossible for people to barely see through the end of road and also, in equal proportion, makes it humanly impossible for people living nearby to breathe in the fresh air. Right to fresh and clean air is held as a fundamental right, and unfortunately the same is given a go by.

A population to the tune of 50 thousand living nearby is getting affected by it. In the same fashion, limitless reservoirs of natural resources have gotten depleted, flora and fauna is being dismantled and many other grisly consequences are unfolding every day like it's meant to happen and nobody gives a care. We are not assertive about our rights and more so we don't enjoy such extent of monetary resources which can enable us to raise a challenge against it. 

The aftermath is not limited to people living nearby, the consequences are infernal and extend to deteriorating the quality of air pervading the entire city. It's axiomatic to say, the consequences of this situation are unlimited and beyond the purview of explanation. Road accidents because of no-visibility, a recipe of death for asthma patients, intemperate fever, severe irritation of eyes, pollution of land, water and air, to say the least, are few examples of this crisis of sorts. This is happening when the officials of the city are enjoying their deep slumber and continuing with what they do i.e., exhibiting their despondency. A case of this magnitude is a red herring for them and demands no response.

An incident of this nature took place yesterday i.e., 2 March, 2018; on the day the entire Nation was smearing color on each other's faces, and regrettably the soul of City Pithoragarh was crying in pain and anguish; and was captured by few socially active and vigilant citizens who took it up on social media with a view to spread the word and also to make sure some sort of reparative actions may be initiated at the hands of authority. It has surely put the public health and community hygiene behind the eight ball and runs the risk of a gargantuan public-health disaster. 

The same incident once again took place on 5 March 2018 and the situation thereafter is worrisome, marked with anguish and pain, and surely positions the city to perch on a volcano of sorts. 

Pithoragarh is standing on the edge of the abyss of a painful environmental disaster. Reportage done on the issue extensively covers the sheer contempt of Municipal Board. Reports equally depicts the way people of pithoragarh are distraught and are up in arms about this lethargic and dispassionate service by the body.

The community of Pithoragarh knows why their city is markedly different from other places and how it has been an asset for all of us. The great and the good share their experiences of interactions with the environment with vivid remembrances and anecdotes. The great unwashed of the city has always been a lover of the environment and has greatly communicated and established bonhomie with nature by way of farming, in the big measure. With the changes engulfing and spreading over the bustling city at a brisk pace, certain things of utmost necessity and consequence haven’t changed with times and, thus, pose darker clouds on the horizon in view of achieving holistic development of the city.

If this problem doesn’t stand answered at the earliest, the epidemic actuating and lurking large in the future will destroy the beauty and enigmatic suspense associated with the city. The situation is preposterous, saddening, appalling, frightful, and dangerously cruel and attended with serious dangers to health at various levels.

It’s also sad that nothing has changed in this regard even after a huge hullabaloo on Swatch Bharat Abhiyan was launched by the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji on a country-wide scale. Though PM doesn’t belong to any party but belongs to the entire country. 

By all odds, it’s sad that the party which he belongs to which also happens to rule the State with a mammoth majority hasn’t been able to ensure the development of waste product treatment plant in the city despite their elected MP’s and MLA’s reigning supreme thereof. This is deplorable.

It’s an insult to injury for all the public exchequers especially having regard to the cess being taken from us in the name of Swatch Bharat and nothing being done for ensuring the cleanliness of the city. It is undermining the sanctity of public duty attached to the concerned offices.

This systematic perversion and pollution of the environment under the thumb and instructions of concerned authorities in power is actually a collective conspiracy on their part to throttle and choke the life of the citizenry. This is nothing short of a planning and plotting to throw the entire city in a state of death. A criminal case ought to be initiated against the people responsible for this disaster. I am appalled at how and why the state hasn't taken suo Moto actions against the non working officials up until now. The criminal law poses a duty on the State to take actions when people in power engages in attempt of commission  of a criminal offence. It is a matter of shame and disgrace that nobody in power ever cared for the health of the collective who voted these people into positions of power. Public servant we chose but little did we know we are pledging our lives to them. This act of public officials is tantamount to giving a slow death to the city, its people, and limitless flora and fauna associated thereof. 

One may never come to get their hands on the actual data of how many lives have been affected, and how many lives are taking a turn for the worse owing to this unstopped check on pollution. The entire city is nearing to a collapse and bearing the brunt of a body unwilling to change its style of working. How can the country change for the better when public bodies are so stuck in rut and cast their indifferent attitude in cement? God forbid, it these people are to continue in power anymore this country shall not achieve the goals of the constitution. 

These people are the bottlenecks which put the very foundation of constitution in jeopardy. It's because of their nefarious motives to make sure the city stays unclean the goals so espoused and funds so devoted to cleanliness are never used, spent and appropriated for the befitting proposes. If these people have the gall and temerity to put our fundamental rights to breach which are so sacred and inviolable, they are the destructors of democracy and the constitution. 

This episode of the reckless and unstopped burning of wastage poses a naked breach to the commitment of our officials at Municipality, lethargic approach of MP’s and MLA’s for not being able to direct enough attention to this issue brewing and taking city under its ominous risk for quite some time.

It's really sad that the Municipal Board currently run by Congress led government which is saddled with the duty and commitment to maintain public health and hygiene is hell bent on shirking, evading and neglecting it's duties. There is no measure of politics involved in the issue since garbage is one point which unites everyone. But it's in DNA of these people to do everything at the eleventh hour. They enjoy the sight of fire ambulances rushing the spot to douse the fire. 

Municipal Board always takes the plea that a different dumping site can only be hunted out if grant of land and it's availability thereof is sanctioned by the state government. Is is too unimportant for the government's in power to ponder over this issue? It's a crying shame allowing the mother earth to bear the brunt of our misdeeds and go through a hell lot of trials and tribulations. In my own view, this problem is one of lack of systematic and affection less working with no regards to the problems of people in the city.

The collegiality and harmony which is required to be shown and expected to be displayed by the political personnel's while ironing out the kinks and kicking this issue to curb is missing. In the end, common people stands out as the sufferer. 

I feel there is an important need to have a clean city, a clean environment which is a sine qua non for carrying out smooth operations of life with energy and freshness. It is something very basic to enjoy a salubrious life which is also commanded by every creed of the Constitution of India, 1950. The substratum of healthful life is so jointed to the aspect of Life and Liberty that it cannot be negated, deprived and taken for a rise at any costs. A clean and Safe environment is the constitutional mandate which unfortunately hasn't been observed and compiled by our public authorities. 

This unfortunate situation developing in the city is a flagrant breach and stark violation of a string of Supreme Court judgments speaking highly on the necessity of maintaining a salubrious environment which proves conducive for the purposes of sustainable development. It stands as a case of dereliction of duty on the part of public body officials for not complying with Public Trust doctrine, Precautionary and Polluter Pay Principle laid by the Supreme Court and High Court of Uttarakhand time and again for maintaining the sanctity of environment.

This is also horrible and flies in the face of several directives of National Green Tribunal directing states to maintain and preserve the environment which is a national asset as opposed to leaving it high and dry, and thus not treating it as personal property.

An important event as it stands also singularly points to the fact that a writ was filed by Mr. Manoj Bhatt {The Petitioner} before the High Court of Uttarakhand against the waste product disposal site on grounds of nuisance and pollution. The garbage mound thrown in  the landfill site had made it impossible for the people living nearby to carry out a peaceful life. The Petitioner raised the violation of two statutorily governed rules i.e., Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 and Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 which provide for separation of solid waste and biomedical waste. The process of dumping in Pithoragarh flies in the face of the spirit of two rules. The matter was placed before a division bench comprising Hon'ble Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia.

The judgment was delivered on 16 March 2017 wherein HC unanimously ordered shifting of disposal site from Nainipatal and a further direction to essentially comply with the rules governing the separation of wastage. There has been no compliance with this judgment thus far. The shame is that even the judgment delivered at the hands of the court is serving no fear in the minds of the authorities. The way they are carrying out their acts of contempt show their fearlessness and sheer disrespect for the institution of justice. Contempt of court is being flagrantly done by the Municipal Board in an unchecked and unrestrained manner. This is repulsive and demeaning to the very potency of the power that emanates out the majesty of the constitutional court. 

There is another judgement of Hon'ble High Court in Seva Nath Mandal Case which was delivered on the same date as of the Manoj Bhatt judgement wherein the court examined the entire scenario of Solid Waste Management in the state of Uttarakhand. The division bench comprising the same judges directed Municipal Board and District Magistrates to ensure that segregation of waste and its treatment thereof is done as per its varied nature. A timeline of six months was given to ensure the compliance of the same. By logic, the compliance date provided for September 2017 as the last possible month up to which all necessary arrangements ought to have been made for giving effect to the law rendered by the High Court.

Sucha crying shame that even after ten months the judgement awaits compliance and conformity to its mandate and spirit. This brazenness and high handedness showcased by the authorities in power is ruthless, denigrating and defeats the very ideal of We the People so gloriously emphasized in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, 1950. Democracy which is for the people, of the people and by the people stands defiled, degenerated and thrashed.

Time is ripe for all of us to agitate our concerns and become the forerunners for a change in the future. Otherwise, I have a serious foreboding of this city turning into a case of the environmental disaster in next twenty years if the pace with which the city is developing doesn't attune itself to environmentally prescribed norms.

In this regard, I have already filed an RTI seeking information from Nagarpalika Pithoragarh for the update in this regard. The RTI was posted by Speed Post on 5 March 2018. The response, whatever, received in this matter stands no answer to their utterly dismissive and negligent attitude in committing dereliction of their duties and not applying a therapeutic remedy to this all-pervasive environmental tragedy.

An open letter to District Magistrate Pithoragarh was written by me on 9 March 2018 and was mailed to his at his official account. Further, a copy of the same has been widely circulated on social media.

I have drafted a letter writing to Hon'ble Chief Justice of High Court of Uttarakhand, a copy of which shall also be circulated to other respectable judges bringing to their notice the contempt done of the judgement of the court. The letter would be beseeching my Lords to take immediate strongest actions against the erring officials. I, on behalf of all the residents  of pithoragarh would request my Lords to ensure law breaking officials, regardless of their positions and office ought to be booked under the law of contempt. This abhorrent behaviour is despicable, to say the least. Although this event is not something for which no evidence ought to be laid as it's a judically noticeable fact but even then, with a view to present a water tight case I have annexed evidences in the letter in the hope that they would understand the plight and pain of the common residents of Pithoragarh.

It’s high time for the common citizenry of the city to undertake a task of whistle-blowing and wave the flag for this cause by registering your anxiety, anger, and disappointment with this prevailing situation. If this isn't changed for the better, the future generations won't stop cursing us. Not for who we were but for the environment we left for them. We can afford them to take birth on a death bed. 

This is the need of the hour because one can’t simply sit idle and remain sluggish in front of this already-actuated disaster which if not stopped on time would ruin, put a mark of disgrace and blow a hole in the success story of the development of the city. One should recoil at the sight of things of this nature and magnitude unfolding in the city.

(The pictures and videos of this unfortunate episode can be seen by clicking on the links mentioned at the start of petition, and one can actually comprehend, fathom, and realize the brutality of the smoke slowly, surreptitiously and steadily transforming the city into another Gas Chamber in the like of Delhi.)

Information about the drafter of this petition:

Hitesh Bhatt

Assistant Professor of Law (UGC-NET)

Advocate, The High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital 

Assistant Student Editor of the book 'A Review of Laws Related to Tourism in India' published under the renowned head of Thomson Reuters.

LLM (Constitutional and Administrative Law) from National Law University, Bhopal.

MA (Public Administration) (2nd year) from Uttarakhand Open University 

BA LLB (Hons) from Amity Law School, Noida.

Diploma In Internet Law and Policy from Gujarat National Law University.