Udaipur has faced water scarcity from its inception, due to its geographical location. The Hindu monarchs who ruled the city built an array of artificial lakes to ensure regular water supply for their subjects. They were taken care of not only by the administration but also the local people. In the British regime, Udaipur came to be known as the city of lakes, and the four large water bodies, Pichhola, Swaroop Sagar, Fateh Sagar and Badi, remained its lifelines. But the condition of the lakes deteriorated sharply in the post independence era.
While, unregulated and rapid commercialization escalated the inflow of pollutants, indifferent government machinery that paid scant attention to proper cleaning up operations, only intensified the problem. As many as twelve government agencies were assigned the task of working as caretakers of these water bodies. But they merely passed on the responsibility to one another. The health of the lakes grew more precarious every year. It was left to the citizens of Udaipur to fight for the life of these dying water bodies. And they have been doing so with singular zeal. The people of Udaipur have tried to draw the attention of the authorities to the lakes through rallies, public meetings, lecture sessions and distributing relevant literature.
The first PIL to save the lakes of Udaipur was filed by Balwant Singh Mehta in 1982. The verdict of this case came out in 1994. In 1997, Praveen Khandelwal, representing the Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti (JSS), an Udaipur based non governmental organization, filed a PIL in the SC against the Government of Rajasthan, the Municipal Council of Udaipur and the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board, seeking urgent judicial intervention to clean up the lakes in Udaipur, and to check the flow of pollutants into these water bodies. But this case was directed to the Rajasthan High Court HC in the same year. JSS filed another W.P. in 1999 to speed up the case. Two more petitions in the HC to expedite the cases related to water bodies. Ultimately the judgment came up on 6th February 2007.
The case filed by Balwant Singh Mehta in the Rajasthan High Court was settled with the final judgment. Another case filed by JSS in 1997 (W.P. 3687/1997) was also settled in the HC of Rajasthan in 2007.The following are the highlights of the court judgments, government actions and public reactions.
Balwant Singh Mehta, an eminent citizen and a signatory to the Indian Constitution Formation Committee filed a PIL in the Rajasthan High Court against the state government, seeking measures to control lake pollution.
The court ordered the administration of Udaipur to constitute a committee that can develop a viable plan to protect the city’s lakes. It also issued directives that the administration should provide potable water to all citizens within the next six months. However, the state authorities did not respond to these orders.
Praveen Khandelwal, representing the Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti (JSS), an Udaipur based non governmental organization, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court (SC) against the Government of Rajasthan, the Municipal Council of Udaipur and the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board, seeking urgent judicial intervention to clean up the lakes in Udaipur, and to check the flow of pollutants into these water bodies. The case was passed to Rajasthan HC.
In August the PIL known as the Mehta PIL, on, the HC instituted a contempt of court case against the collector of Udaipur for non-compliance of the order issued by the High Court in 1994.
The District Judge of Udaipur, who was asked to study the status of the Udaipur lakes, submitted his report before the court in November. This report described the grave condition of these water bodies, thereby strengthening the case against the administration.
However, no significant development took place, in spite of this. The case proceeded at snail’s pace in the HC.
JSS filed another PIL to expedite the cases related to water bodies. This PIL was given considerable attention by the double bench headed by Justice N N Mathur and Justice D N Joshi, who head it on a regular basis.
The petitioners pleaded before the court to issue directions to the Department of Environment, Government of Rajasthan, urging it to approach the centre for sanctioning of a project for conserving the lakes of Udaipur under the National Lake Conservation Plan.
The petitioners also demanded that a well-defined strategy should be evolved to treat the sewage before it enters the lakes, as well as to prevent garbage dumping near the lakes.
They also requested the court to direct the authorities to take effective steps to implement the Mansi Wakal project for augmenting the city’s water supply and to issue notifications banning permanent construction within 200 meters of the High Flood Level of the Udaipur lake system. The petitioners pleaded the court to direct the government to constitute an autonomous Lake Authority of Udaipur (Jheel Vikas Society) to effectively manage the lake system.
The HC asked the petitioners to submit their suggestions for protecting the lakes on 1st May
The judges declared that they would not tolerate the lethargic attitude of the authorities, which were directed to submit the status report within eight weeks. The court suggested that both the state and the citizens should take keen interest and in protecting the water bodies. This happened on 8th May.
Following directions were given,
The executive committee of the Jheel Vikas Society, (a society constituted by the government in 1999 with the divisional commissioner as the president) was asked to prepare a time bound action plan to overcome the various problems associated with the lakes in Udaipur city.
Petitioners were to be invited to the meetings of the executive committee of the Jheel Vikas Society.
The society was instructed not to give membership to any person, organization or institution against whom there is an allegation of polluting the environment.
Rajendra Kumar Razdan of JSS files a petition against the State of Rajasthan and others in the HC so that the compliance of the court order was done on a serious scale.
Another PIL was filed by Dr. Tej Razdan, Dr. Arun Zachariya and Rajendra Kumar Razdan of JSS against the State of Rajasthan and others on the same issue.
The judgment came up in February: The highlights are as follows:
• The state government was directed to consider the establishment of Lakes Development Authority for the conservation of lakes in Udaipur. The authority should be responsible and accountable for ecological, hydrological and limnological balance of the lakes.
• Effective steps should be taken so that no construction is permitted in the “No construction zone”.
• Desilting of the lakes should take place continuously.
• The conversion and construction in and around the lakes and in their catchment areas are not permissible except rarest occasion.
• The committee set up by the HC will specify the catchment areas of the lakes.
The Centre plans to release Rs.110 crore for conservation and pollution control in the world-famous Pichhola lake of Udaipur under the National Lake Conservation Project (NLCP).
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot laid the foundation stone of Rs 85 crore project in March to restore the beauty of the world famous Pichhola lake. The project under the National Lake Conservation Project includes conservation measures costing Rs 42 crore.
Lakes of Udaipur were completely dry by July. Instead of boats at places four wheelers were being used to ferry the tourists.
In February another Civil Miscellaneous Petition (90/2010) was filed in the District Bench by JSS for non compliance of the court orders for saving the Udaipur Lakes.
The bench accepted the petition in March.