The tribunal also observed that if effective steps to curb the pollution level was not taken then the tanneries would be closed as “the life of millions cannot be put at stake.”

A bench, headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, directed inspection of the entire tannery industrial cluster by a team comprising representatives of Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) and National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA).

Directing the team to collect and analyse effluents being discharged into the river, the bench said that the team should submit a report on next date of hearing on January 29 on the most effective way to prevent and control pollution in the river from these industrial clusters.

“The life of millions cannot be put at stake for carrying out a commercial activity for a group of individuals. Balance has to be struck and we would not hesitate in striking off that balance between development and environment,” it said.

The bench noted that this was a case which required performance of all the stake-holders of their duty and obligations and the industrial sector (tanning industry) should discharge its corporate social responsibility by discharging treated effluent and cause no pollution.

“We make it clear in unambiguous terms that if the industry, the government and the UPPCB and the UP Jal Nigam do not act with complete sense of responsibility and take effective steps to prevent and control the pollution of river Ganga in all respects at least from this industrial cluster, we will be compelled to order complete closure of all the 700 tannery industries operating in Kanpur on the banks of river Ganga,” it said.

While directing day-to-day hearing of the case terming it as a serious matter after January 29, the bench said that the

government has to be cautious of its constitutional and statutory duties to provide clean environment and wholesome water in river Ganga.

The bench, which was hearing a plea filed by Krishan Kant Singh, said it was unquestionable that 700 tannery industries in Kanpur were one of the highest sources of pollution and that too, by serious pollutants which were dangerous to human health, bio-diversity and the ecology of the river.