The Madras High Court directed the State Government to remove the existing encroachments in the water bodies in the State.

It also directed to open a dedicated website containing an all-exclusive list of all water bodies in the State, which shall contain all the relevant details pertaining to each water body (including tanks, lakes, rivers, kanmois etc.,), survey number, physical location, details of village, taluk and district and area and dimensions will have to be precisely measured and catalogued.

The Court took judicial notice of the fact that in the Madurai Region, several water bodies some of them very large have already disappeared. They have fallen prey to the Tamil Nadu Housing Board, the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, and the various government departments. If a new building had to be constructed to accommodate the needs of a department, the first target would be the water body in the vicinity.

The Division Bench of Justice G.R. Swaminathan and Justice B. Pugalendhi observed, “It is not as if people are civic conscious. Before us, a few hundred writ petitions are pending seeking removal of encroachment on water bodies. There is indiscriminate dumping of plastic waste and garbage on them. Drainage and sewage is being let out into tanks and rivers. The local bodies have to be nudged and pushed to discharge their statutory functions. This is a sorry state of affairs.

Senior Advocate T. Lajapathi Roy appeared on behalf of the Petitioner whereas Deputy Solicitor General of India K. Govindarajan appeared for the Union Government and Advocate General P.S. Raman and Government Pleader K. Balasubramani appeared for the Tamil Nadu Government.

The Writ Petitions were filed due to the laying of roads on the tank bunds of two very large water bodies in Madurai. The Counsel appearing for the petitioner submitted that the writ petitions must be allowed because the department had failed to obtain prior environmental clearance. He further contended that there must be sufficient distance between the tank bund and the road. He relied on the provisions of Revenue Standing Orders.

The Court further observed, “Through the city of Madurai, a river by name, Kridhumaal Nadhi flowed. What was once a river has become a narrow drainage channel. Its course has been altered by urbanization and construction of buildings. Even Vaigai has not been spared. Its width has been narrowed by construction of a service road. The environmental jurisprudence evolved over the years by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India as well as the Madras High Court impels us to issue certain directions to the Government of Tamil Nadu. We are not saying anything new. We are only reiterating what has already been laid down.”

The Court said, “The matter cannot end there. We have permitted the projects to proceed only because they have been conceived in the public interest. But in the name of public interest, water bodies cannot be obliterated.”

The Court directed the State Government to open a dedicated website, to identify the existing encroachments and to remove them, to cancel the pattas issued in respect of water bodies after January 1, 2000, not to affect the integrity of water bodies in any developmental projects.

The Court also directed, “Water bodies belong to the society. Their ownership may technically rest in local bodies/departments/government. But they are a gift of nature and have to be available not only for human beings but also animals and birds. We notice that water bodies have been corporatised. The licensees to enhance their profit, indulge in unsustainable practices. It is the duty of the officials to ensure that the quality of water is not affected in any manner. Whenever tender notices are issued, appropriate conditions shall be incorporated so as to effectuate the direction set out in this clause.”

Accordingly, the petitions were disposed of through a common order.

Cause Title: R. Manibharathi v. Union of India and Ors.


Petitioner: Senior Advocate T. Lajapathi Roy

Respondents: K. Govindarajan, Deputy Solicitor General of India for Union of India, P.S. Raman, Advocate General, K. Balasubramani, Spl. Government Pleader, Senior Advocates Isaac Mohanlal, C. Arul Vadivel @ Sekar, Advocates Aayiram K. Selvakumar S. Srinivasaraghavan, N. Tamil Mani.

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