Declines to grant stay on environmental clearance
In a landmark judgement, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court ordered a fresh public hearing for the 1,320 MW coal-fired power plant proposed in Mandwa in Maharashtra's Wardha district. The court, however, refused to stay the environment clearance granted to the project developer, Lanco Infratech Limited, in February 2011. The bench declined a stay, saying there was enough time for the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to conduct a fresh public hearing and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to review its clearance before January 2014, which is when the plant is to be functional. The company, meanwhile, was free to go ahead with construction at its own risk, the bench said.
The judgement was given on a public interest petition filed by four farmers from village Pullali, close to Mandwa, alleging that the public hearing conducted by MPCB on September 17, 2010 was manipulated by Lanco in connivance with MPCB officials and by using muscle power.
The farmers, Padmakar Deshmukh, Chandrashekhar Bhende, Laxman Manwatkar and Vijay Muley, said in their petition that there were procedural irregularities as well as use of brute force during the hearing. The hearing was conducted by the sub divisional officer (SDO) who does not have the requisite authority, and no notice was published in the local newspapers. It also said that despite the presence of 5,000 strong crowd, only 14 people were allowed to speak. The minutes of the hearing were not prepared in the local language Marathi and were not even read out to the public.
The petition also pointed out that policemen present were openly threatening the villagers and one person, Avinash Deo, was beaten up by the police. Deo has registered an FIR against company officials. The petition also alleges that the sarpanch of village Pullali was bribed Rs 1 lakh for giving no objection certificate.
Meeting to be video recorded
The court upheld all the contentions of the farmers and said that records show that the public hearing was not conducted under normal circumstances and police intervention had been required. To prevent a repeat of the earlier event, court has ordered MPCB to issue fresh notice of public hearing and video record the entire proceedings. It has also instructed the superintendent of police and the district collector to personally supervise the hearing and ensure that all those wishing to attend the event should be accommodated through proper arrangements like large pandal, loudspeakers and CCTV cameras. All wishing to make oral submissions should be accommodated provided they submit their names at least 24 hours in advance, it said.
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