High level committee to monitor whether developer complies with conditions of environmental clearance
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has granted environmental clearance to the first phase of Lavasa township near Pune on November 9. The clearance is subject to several conditions. The first phase of the township, touted as Independent India’s first hill station, is being built in an area of 2,000 hectares (ha).
Construction work on 681 ha had already been carried out by November last year when MoEF stopped work on the project because the developer, Lavasa Corporation Limited (LCL), had failed to obtain the mandatory environmental clearance from the ministry. LCL challenged the ministry’s order in the Bombay High court. The company also applied to the ministry in February this year for a post-facto clearance. The ministry’s order follows a Bombay High Court directive of October 20, 2011, asking the ministry to decide on the application of LCL within three weeks. The matter is still pending in the court.
After the assessment of the project by its expert appraisal committee (EAC), the ministry had set five pre-conditions for the clearance of the project in June this year. MoEF asked the state government to take “credible action” against the violations of environmental laws by the developer. The other pre-conditions included: a resolution from the board of Lavasa that the company will not repeat the violations; the the scale and intensity of development of the hill town would adhere to the Hill Station Regulations,; at least 5 per cent of the total cost of the project shall be earmarked for corporate social responsibility (CSR); LCL shall give a commitment to earmark funds for the penalty decided by the ministry.
The company, in a resolution sent to the ministry in July, accepted all the pre-conditions. However, the Maharashtra government was reluctant to take action against the company. The court pulled up the Maharashtra government for its inaction last month. As a result the state was forced to file a criminal case against LCL in Pune earlier this month for violating environmental laws. Follwing the high court order and the state government's action against LCL, MoEF decided it had no option but to give a final order on the environmental clearance to Lavasa.
Lavasa to restore damaged environment
While giving clearance, the ministry has put at least 55 specific and nine general conditions, which include conditions decided by EAC (see 'Conditions for environmental clearance'). According to the conditions, a high level committee will be constituted by the state government in consultation with the MoEF to examine, verify and monitor compliance with the conditions at various stages of development of the project. The committee comprising eminent experts, government officials and other stakeholders in the project will also verify the environmental restoration work by LCL mandated by the ministry and to assess the water balance in the reservoir downstream of the hill station.
What about public hearing? ask activists
The ministry’s decision has left the green brigade fuming. “It is a gross misconduct on part of the Central government to give environmental clearance to a project when the matter is pending in two courts—one of them is a criminal case,” says former IPS officer and advocate Y P Singh. He criticised Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan for supporting the project and demanding clearance for it. “It is shameful for the chief minister to advocate the project when his government has filed a criminal case against it for such large-scale violation of environmental laws,” says Singh.
Singh also says that MoEF cannot grant environmental clearance without first conducting public hearing. “According to the law, it is mandatory for the government to conduct public hearing before granting environmental clearance. This is the violation on part of the Central government as no public hearing was conducted in this case,” he adds.
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