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NGT-constituted panel pulls up Delhi Jal Board for inefficiency in reducing Yamuna pollution

Committee says though Covid lockdown certainly hit Yamuna Action Plan projects, delays have been ‘routine’ since before that.

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New Delhi: The Delhi Jal Board is under scanner for its inefficiency in reducing pollution in the Yamuna — it has been accused of not responding to letters from central government officials, and delaying Yamuna Action Plan projects by holding up funds and clearances for tree-felling.

In a 448-page report submitted to the National Green Tribunal last week, the two-member Yamuna Monitoring Committee appointed by the tribunal in July 2018 — comprising retired NGT expert member B.S. Sajwan and former Delhi chief secretary Shailaja Chandra — severely criticised the DJB for its ineffective system to monitor projects around the river Yamuna.

The report carries details of the various aspects of pollution in the Yamuna, including the status of floodplain management projects, sewage treatment plants, and maintenance of drains.

“We are preparing a detailed response with our comments to the report and will file that before NGT,” DJB CEO Nikhil Kumar told ThePrint. He said the board wouldn’t like to comment before that.

This is the fifth report prepared by the YMC, commissioned by the NGT on 6 July 2020. The responsible authorities can now submit their responses to the panel, which will then make further observations to the NGT by 15 January 2021.

Also read: Why Delhi Jal Board is just not able to clean up the Yamuna mess

Holding up funds

The committee’s report said in the last few months, the execution of a number of initiatives to abate river pollution — by urban local bodies and the DJB — has slackened due to pandemic-related problems.

“During the lockdown, there was almost total restriction imposed by the NCT (National Capital Territory) government on the use of project funds and only salary disbursements were permitted,” the report stated.

This gave independent contractors ready excuses to further delay working on Yamuna Action Plan projects, the report said.

But the committee found that even before the Covid-19 lockdown, such delays were routine.

The report said the executive director of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, in a meeting held with the committee and subsequently through a note, had said despite a number of review meetings held at the NMCG and follow-up communications, including demi-official letters issued to the senior-most officers of the Delhi government and the DJB by the secretary of the Ministry of Jal Shakti and DG NMCG, there had been “nil response”.

Delayed clearances for tree-felling 

One of the most common reasons why projects under the Yamuna Action Plan were held up was a delay in issuing permission to fell trees in the area, the committee found.

The tree-felling approvals were not being treated with due expedition by either DJB or the Forest Department, it said.

“Too much reliance was being placed on letter writing and reminders as a sign of action, without having raised the matters with sufficient concern to the level of the PCCF (principal chief conservator of forests), the principal secretary environment & forests, and even to the chief secretary for intervention,” the committee stated.

It also pointed out that such clearances were swiftly obtained for the construction of the Delhi Metro, which showed “that obstacles can be overcome where there is will and initiative”.

‘Complete overhaul needed’

Considering the repeated lapses in project implementation, the committee recommended that the processes for decision-making within DJB need to be examined.

It alleged that the DJB CEO did not attend meetings, barring one. In all other meetings, the DJB was represented either by the member (drainage) or a chief engineer — officers who do not hold the authority to make decisions.

The committee recommended that there is a need for complete overhaul of the internal oversight systems, also alleging that the establishment does not seem to have the capability to do this effectively.

“Oversight of timely implementation should not be left to only engineers who lack the capacity for anticipating problems, trouble-shooting, raising levels, following up with key links in the chain to get results,” the report said.

The committee pointed out that the need for organisational restructuring in the DJB has been highlighted once before — in a report prepared under the board’s chairperson in 2017.

It also recommended that a performance audit be carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to bring out the systemic problems and suggest corrective action.

The last time a performance audit of the DJB had taken place was in 2012.

“The board does not have a strong project monitoring mechanism and no accountability is being assigned to the Project Management Consultants (PMC) — external consultants, paid from project funds — or construction agencies, who are bound under the terms of contract to achieve the milestones within prescribed timelines,” the report said.

Also read: Superbugs resistant to last-resort drugs infecting the Yamuna, says study


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