The Meghalaya High Court has directed the state government to file a further report in a Public Interest Litigation regarding the preservation of waterbodies, particularly the Umiam Lake. The Court held that the state government should not promote tourism at the cost of the natural beauty of the state and should undertake a wholesome approach with the help of knowledgeable citizens possessing qualifications in such regard.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and comprising Justice W. Diengdoh, observed, “Further, in the absence of any other employment opportunities and in the name of promoting tourism, the natural beauty of the State should not be destroyed and the State should be alive to the problem. Several of the rivers, including the Umkhrah in Shillong itself are carrying such contaminated water that they may not be fit even to step into. Elsewhere, rivers and streams which may not be perennial carry so much filth and dirt that people living downstream are deprived of the use of the water altogether”.

Advocate D. Dkhar appeared for the Petitioner, Senior Advocate S. Sengupta appeared for the Respondent and Advocate S.P. Mahanta appeared as Amicus Curiae.

The state government produced Meghalaya Waterbodies (Preservation and Conservation) Guidelines, 2023 (Guidelines, 2023) which dealt with the issue of garbage, trash and debris being dumped in the waterbodies. The state government had also set up an expert committee which provided a report with suggestions to curb the issues.

But the Court noted that the guidelines, 2023 provided by the state government were a mere formality as the guidelines do not deal with substantial issues. The Court directed the state government to actively work in resolving the issue of deforestation around the Highways and protecting the fragile biosphere and ecology of the State.

“The guidelines introduced by the State as disclosed in the affidavit fall woefully short of the expectations or the measures necessary to protect the waterbodies, particularly the Umiam Lake. The fragile biosphere and the ecology of the State have to be protected even as, on a daily basis, large chunks of forestland are being appropriated for human habitation or use”, the Bench observed.

The Court asserted that the prohibition on construction near waterbodies will persist until the state government issues a comprehensive set of guidelines and directed the state government to submit such a report within six weeks from the date of the order. The Court held, “The State has to do much better. A further report should be filed six weeks hence. The prohibition on construction around waterbodies pursuant to previous orders will continue till the State addresses such issue in a more considered set of rules or guidelines that it frames”.

Accordingly, the Court listed the matter for August 31.

Cause Title: In Re: Cleanliness of Umiam Lake vs State of Meghalaya

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