Eateries' mess, forces DPCC cleanup

Last Updated 23 September 2013, 16:12 IST

Hauz Khas had been wearing an air of tension since August 14 – the day Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) served notices to 34 pubs and restaurants here for flouting environmental norms. The worst fears of owners and patrons came true last weekend when the DPCC, finally, ordered them shut.

The action was directed by National Green Tribunal after an activist approached it saying that these eateries, in the absence of legal water connections, are drawing underground water and polluting the area with untreated waste. Environmental concerns, though, are not new in Hauz Khas, nor are these restaurants, some of which have been running for over a decade. So why is the DPCC waking up now, only after being alerted by a citizen, and long after irreparable damage may have already been caused to the green spot?
After decades of lying dead, the famous Hauz Khas lake here was revived only in 2005.

The man who accomplished this, Manu Bhatnagar says, “I remember it being a monumental task. A great amount of research and engineering exercise was required to revive the 14th century tank. I don’t think the eateries could be dumping their waste in the lake but if the sewage is not being routed out properly, it can very well leech into and contaminate the lake. Also, it’s a big worry if they are extracting ground water because South Delhi anyways has the lowest water table in the city.”

Interestingly, this is not the first time commercial activities in the area have been clamped down. In 2006 too, a string of designer stores and restaurants here, including the famous Bistro owned by Suresh Kalmadi, were closed for damaging the environment and monuments. Avikal Somvanshi, researcher, Sustainable Buildings, CSE, says, “Hauz Khas has always been a favourite with entrepreneurs as it was a Lal Dora (urban village) land even till 2011. No municipal laws applied here, you needed no building plans, fire safety or environmental clearances, land prices were also low, so entrepreneurs made the most of it.”

“But the fact that Hauz Khas has grown so much in the past few years and that lack of guidelines could be ruining the environment, should have alerted the government long ago. It shows utter misconnect between the city and its authorities.”

Environmentalists, though, say that a part of the blame lies with the restaurateurs, too. Ravi Agarwal, Director, Toxics Link, says, “In every part of the world, wherever you set up an eatery, installing a sewage treatment unit at the site is mandatory. The kind of food waste, oil, grease and acids that are emitted by eateries are nothing less than poison for the environment. It is impossible that these people were not aware.”

Restaurateurs in Hauz Khas plead ignorance. Most of them say that they had no idea that installing a sewage treatment unit or seeking a DPCC permission is required. Joy Singh of Raasta restaurant says, “At the time of starting our restaurant, we sought clearances from the Excise department, Police, Tourism Corporation, Fire department, MCD and more, but nobody ever told us that an environmental clearance is also required. I don’t understand why they can’t have a single window clearance for all of this?”

When Metrolife contacted DPCC, a senior official said in its defence, “We don’t have enough staff to do routine surveys at every hotel and restaurant but that does not mean that the law can be bypassed. Every restaurant has to have a treatment plant and this rule has to be implemented.”

(Published 23 September 2013, 16:12 IST)

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