If you drive past high-rises in Noida and Greater Noida, or for that matter any city in the country, you will find miles and miles of footpaths made with interlocking tiles dotting the road side. Can you imagine the impact indiscriminate concretization of roadsides and road berms can have on the climate pattern not to mention the flooding that occurs every monsoons?
Concerned over this, environment activist Vikrant Tongad and dermatologist Dr Supriya Mahajan filed a petition, which led to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) recently staying the concretisation of roadsides and road berms in Noida and Greater Noida in excess of the limits prescribed by authorities. It has prohibited any kind of concretization of the roadsides, open spaces and soft landscapes in Noida and Greater Noida, with interlocking tiles or otherwise, and to keep them soft, natural and unconcretized, so as to allow natural ground water recharge and prevent surface run-off, water-logging and urban flooding.
Environment lawyers said that this violation should be dealt with strictly across cities and not simply restricted to these twin cities in NCR.
Tongad and Mahajan had argued in their petition through their lawyer Akash Vashishtha that Noida and Greater Noida authorities were concretising entire roadsides and green/vegetated road berms in flagrant violation of the orders of the Tribunal and the government orders issued by the state.
“Concretization prevents ground water recharge and leads to urban flooding, water logging, elimination of biodiversity and green cover. We have urged the NGT to remove concretization around tress to ensure a minimum breathing space of one metre around them,” Vashishtha told Moneycontrol.
“Instead of promoting “green streets”, NOIDA authority is destroying all green road berms which were a part of Noida’s Master Plan as green infrastructure,” he said.
The applicants pleaded that reckless, excessive and indiscriminate concretisation of road sides and road berms is being carried out by the Noida Authority in Sectors 28, 37, 47 50, 55 and 62 of Noida and by Greater Noida Authority and sought directions to plant grass and other vegetation, including shrubs and herbs, on roadsides and road berms in Noida and Greater Noida, after deconcretising them.
They can easily vegetate these surfaces with grass or other pollution absorbing plants. Grass releases oxygen. The budgets are also comparably much lesser than these ecologically disastrous, unsustainable indiscriminate concretization works. There is adequate scientific material, including a US Department of Energy study that recommends shunning of this practice, he had told the court.
"Such sudden, alarming increase in the ambient temperatures in last few years is not because of seasonal and meteorological factors alone but because of these entirely concretized ground surfaces. In the absence of harvesting systems, these roadsides serve as the only medium of natural groundwater recharge and those, too, are usurped for concretization," he had argued.
Noida officials were quoted as saying that they would ensure compliance of the order.
How is this NGT order different?
This is the first time tribunal has intervened in this matter, even though this practice of unbridled dconcretisation of roadside is prevalent across the country. The main consequences of this include rise in urban heat islands. The carbon released into the atmosphere gets oxidized to form carbon dioxide, which is a major greenhouse gas. Ample research is there to show that this soil is vital to offset the carbon content in the atmosphere and air pollution. There is directly held to mitigate the air pollution in the atmosphere, explains Vashishtha.
He points out that while there are several orders in the past that have held that concretization of roadside should be prevented, it is for the first time that the NGT has halted concretization work.
Pavement is meant for paving the road but not the roadside. Paving is done alongside the road so that it does not get destroyed, said Vashishtha, while adding that it does not mean that one can concretise the entire road. This practice is violative of not only the NGT orders, the government orders but also the three guidelines of the ministry of housing.
The case will now be heard on August 26.
Here’s what other orders have to say
The Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation, on July 21, 2000, issued ‘Guidelines for greening of urban areas and landscaping’, inter alia calling for avoiding use of excessive tiling of pavements and asking for tiling to be done only on pavements with heavy pedestrian traffic. Besides, the growth of grasses is to be encouraged.
In April 2001, Uttar Pradesh issued a government order for conservation of ground water recharge that, expressly, directs the public authorities to inter alia keep the roadsides soft and muddy, with provisions only for brick-on-edge and loose-stone-pavement, so that recharge of ground water becomes possible.
The act of excessive and indiscriminate concretization of roadsides and road berms is further in arrant violation of the Judgment, dated November 10, 2016, passed by the NGT in O.A. No. 21/2014, Vardhaman Kaushik Vs Union of India & Ors. that had directed the government authorities to ensure greenery around the flyovers and roads by covering the open land with grass.
The Ministry of Urban Development, further on September 23, 2013, had issued ‘Guidelines for Environmental Preservation – Greening of Urban Areas and Landscaping’, inter alia asking the chief secretaries of all states and UTs for taking necessary action for environmental preservation in the light of the Guidelines, dated July 21, 2000, for greening of urban areas and landscaping.
In September 2013, the Ministry of Urban Development, in a letter to the chief secretaries of all states and UTs, regarding Action Plan for Flood Proofing of Cities/Towns, expressed an urgent need to minimize concretization/paving in urban areas, so as to ensure ground water recharge, asking the chief secretaries to direct the departments/authorities concerned to take necessary action to prepare suitable action plan for flood proofing of each city/town in view of this advisory.
Concretisation of roadsides is also in violation of the Order dated April 23, 2013, passed by NGT in Aditya N. Prasad v. Union of India (OA No. 82 of 2013), vide which no concretization is to take place within at least within one metre radius of the trunk of trees.
In July 2016, the NGT in connection with the case Akash Vashishtha Vs. Union of India & Ors., had accepted the recommendations of the Prof. B. Bhattacharya Committee, constituted by it, while directing the state departments to issue policy guidelines in consonance with them.
In 2018, the UP government had issued an order limiting the concretization of areas around the sides of the roads. It said that concretization can be done only up to a maximum width of 0.5 metre on both sides of roads.
‘Except the carriage way, on both sides of roads, perforated blocks/fly ash brick/straight over burnt bricks can be used only in maximum width of 0.50 metre,’ it had said.
In December 2020, the NGT, while dealing with the issue of dust pollution, had directed all local bodies in the NCR experiencing poor and above air quality to plant grass, raise small herbs and shrubs on the sides of the pavements/road shoulders and on open dusty areas, including the areas on the sides of the pavements/right of way.
The act of concretization of the roadsides and road berms in Noida and Greater Noida is further in gross contravention of the Order, dated December 3, 2020, passed by the NGT in O.A. No. 283/2020, R.S. Virk Vs. Central Pollution Control Board vide which all local bodies in the NCR experiencing poor and above air quality were directed to plant grass, raise small herbs and shrubs on the sides of the pavements/road shoulders and on open dusty areas, including the areas on the sides of the pavements/right of way.
The petition said that indiscriminate concretization of roadsides and road berms has also been carried out by the Noida Authority at a few stretches in Sectors 26, 27, 30, 41, 46, 51, 55 and 56 in the last few months. Instead of promoting “green streets”, NOIDA authority is destroying all green road berms which were a part of Noida’s Master Plan as green infrastructure.
The recent order by NGT
A bench of Justice Arun Kumar Tyagi and expert Dr Afroz Ahmad issued notices to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Uttar Pradesh government, Noida and others on a plea seeking to remove concretisation around trees.
"Let notices be issued to the respondents requiring them to file replies specifically responding to all material averments made in the application within two months. "In the meanwhile, respondents no. 3 and 4 are directed not to carry out any further act of concretisation of roadsides and road berms in Noida and Greater Noida in excess of limits prescribed vide Government order dated March 23, 2018 issued by the State of Uttar Pradesh concurred by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change...," the bench said.
"In the meanwhile, respondents no. 3 and 4 are directed not to carry out any further act of concretisation of roadsides and road berms in Noida and Greater Noida in excess of limits prescribed vide Government order dated March 23, 2018 issued by the State of Uttar Pradesh concurred by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change...," the bench said.
Contents of the petitionThe applicants had filed the application under Section 18(1) read with sections 14 and 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 seeking the following reliefs:
This is what environment experts have to say
Environmentalists say that this violation of NGT orders should be dealt with stringently. The practice is prevalent in other states as well, they added.
Rahul Chaudhary, one of the founders of Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), told Moneycontrol that concretization should be done on the basis of footfall and not on the basis of funding available with the corporations.
“Use of concrete is unnecessary as you are taking away the grass area which not only helps in groundwater recharge but also helps in reducing urban flooding because of runoff,” he said.
Chetan Agarwal, independent forest and environment analyst, told Moneycontrol that green belts on roadsides are important soft scapes that can be designed for stormwater retention and ground water recharge.“Trees in green belt also provide shade, reduce temperature and urban heat island effect and provide a foothold for birds, insects and small animals in the city,” he said.