Umiam Lake

Shillong, Oct 21: Meghalaya high court ordered all construction activities around the Umiam Lake to be kept in abeyance till the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) and the Meghalaya State Pollution Control Board (MSPCB) come up with a more detailed report on whether it would be permissible to allow such construction work to be completed.

Hearing a PIL on the factual cleanliness position of the Umiam Lake, the division bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Wanlura Diengdoh said, “The further construction activities around the Umiam Lake should be kept in abeyance till a more detailed report in terms of this order is obtained from the District Council and the PCB.”

The order came following a report filed by the KHADC revealed that the findings of the joint inspection conducted with the PCB (on September 5-6) where seven establishments have constructed buildings within 300m of the highest flood level (HFL) of the Umiam Lake.

Seven buildings are under construction and have not yet been completed.

According to KHADC, some form of permission has been obtained by each of the aforesaid entities or the persons in control thereof from the local authorities.

In view of the fact that in some cases, permissions have also been obtained from the PCB, it does not appear that there may have been any law in force pertaining to the extent of the construction, the nature of the construction, or any limitations or regulation in such regard, the bench directed the KHADC and PCB to inspect each of the establishments to ascertain whether it would be permissible or desirable to allow the construction work to be completed, given the ultimate nature of use thereof and the proximity to the HFL of Umiam Lake.

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“Even if an establishment is found to have made the construction with some form of permission, strict conditions need to be imposed to ensure that the cleanliness of the water below or the aesthetics of the surroundings are not adversely affected,” the bench said while asserting, “For such purpose, the District Council in conjunction with the PCB will indicate the extent of further construction that may be allowed after going through the construction plans in respect of those establishments where the construction has not yet been completed.”

In the case of the completed projects, the bench stated that it will be open to the KHADC and the PCB to indicate if any part of the construction is required to be demolished in the larger public interest or what strict conditions should be adhered to for taking up or continuing the activity at the relevant establishment.

“The authorities should keep in mind that the closer an establishment is to the water or the HFL, the stricter the norms must be,” it said while adding that the exercise to be conducted by the District Council and the PCB will be guided by the larger public interest and the uncompromising need to ensure the cleanliness of the water.

The bench further observed that the beauty the view offers should be kept in mind rather than the pecuniary or commercial interests of the relevant establishment.

With regards to the several metal containers at the longest viewing point of the Lake, which are aimed to be run as commercial kiosks or establishments for vending eatables, the bench has directed the KHADC, PCB, health and tourism departments to look into the desirability of the kiosks and, preferably, remove the same so that the pristine beauty is not disturbed and there is less likelihood of littering the area, even if the availability of snacks or refreshments may increase footfall.

It said that a well-thought-out designated area for such purpose may be identified with appropriate facilities for dealing with the garbage and effluence that may be generated and so that there is no possibility of the same seeping down to the water below.

Meanwhile, the inspection report also referred to several commercial resorts in and around the area including at least one which is run by the State or a State agency.

The bench was of the opinion that similar rules will apply in respect of the six resorts, namely, Orchid Lake Resort, Ri Shat Sngi Orchid Resort, La Nicholas Dei Da Kine Resort, Roinam Retreat at Umbir, Ri Kynjai-Serenity by the Lake at Umbir and Cafe Umbir at Umbir.

“However, since these resorts have been functioning for a considerable period of time and it may not be just or equitable to pull them down, notwithstanding the failure on their part to adhere to any norms, the District Council and the PCB will impose strict conditions in the manner in which garbage, sewage and other effluence arising such resorts may be appropriately disposed of with scientific methods of treatment thereof so that neither the water nor the immediate environment is affected thereby,” it directed.

The bench also expressed hope that the KHADC will apply the same rules to its own guesthouse which apparently sits at a vantage point overlooking the lake.

It further directed that “No future construction in or around the Umiam Lake, at least within 1000m from the HFL, will be allowed before strict norms for such construction and treatment of effluence are put in place, after leaving a no-construction buffer zone of about 500m from the HFL, by the appropriate authorities.”

The next hearing will be held on November 15.