National Green Tribunal defers decision in view of submissions made by government counsel and farmers’ body opposing the project
It is still undecided whether a fresh site inspection of the Nirma cement plant in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district is required. Despite two committee reports stating that the land on which the detergent company is setting up a cement plant is a wetland, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed that a site visit be carried out by its expert committee on February 19.
This order has been opposed by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF). On March 21, counsel for MoEF, additional solicitor general Indira Jaisingh, and the counsel appearing on behalf of the farmers’ body Shree Mahuva Bandhara Khetiwadi Samiti, Raj Panjwani, argued in court that the need for a site visit can be done away with on review of documents that are in record, and those submitted in response to the clarification sought by NGT. The farmers of Mahuva have been campaigning against the allocation of their wetland to the cement plant. Separate affidavits were submitted by both counsels before NGT in this regard. The tribunal decided that upon reviewing the submissions, a decision will be made on the site visit.
The NGT bench, chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar, had suggested a site visit of the plant on February 19. The reason of another site visit, as pointed out by Kumar, was a corollary of the observation that “site inspection reports submitted earlier by three Expert Committees stand in variance. The new inspection will enable the tribunal to resolve the status of the water body, a part of the project site, and decide on the real issues under controversy.”
It was argued by both counsels that the appellant, Nirma Ltd, has failed to establish on what grounds the site visit report of the earlier expert committee headed by C R Babu of Delhi University does not hold good. Jaisingh further argued that the documents filed by the Gujarat Pollution Control Board on various geo-physical and environmental aspects, as directed by NGT, do not in any case raise doubt on the findings of the committee. Panjwani reaffirmed his argument that the livelihoods of the farmers in villages Patva, Samadhiyala, Padhiyarka, Doliya and Vangar in Bhavnagar district will indeed be affected by the project in the wetland and its catchment area.
Jaisingh added that the plant is a composite project, as it involves limestone mining in 3,460 hectares in Padhiarka village to feed the plant. She argued that MoEF had issued an office memorandum on December 24, 2010, which clearly delineates the procedure for consideration of integrated and inter-related projects for grant of environmental clearance. As per the memorandum, “integrated and interlinked projects having multi-sectoral components shall prepare a common EIA report, covering each component in a comprehensive manner after obtaining Terms of References (ToRs) from each of the respective sectoral Expert Appraisal Committees.” Therefore in terms of clearance granted to Nirma, the process is incomplete, as clearance was only granted for the cement plant, which was later revoked, and final approval for the limestone mine remains pending. Nirma has also not responded to the ToRs that were given to by MoEF with respect to limestone mining.
Dushyant Dave, advocate appearing on behalf of Nirma Ltd., contended that the cement plant and the limestone mine are separate projects. He accused that the “government is being vindictive”.
Jaisingh clarified the ministry wants all matters to be considered in depth, so as to avoid controversy since the company has already invested significantly in a project, the clearance for the project should hold good under all circumstances.
The case has been scheduled for hearing on April 24.