Giving up efforts towards an out-of-court settlement, Lavasa Corp. Ltd decided to not withdraw its petitions against the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), after the Bombay high court said it would still not stay an order stopping work at the firm’s hill city project.
Earlier on Wednesday, the company sought to withdraw its petitions so it could pursue the matter directly with the ministry.
One of the petitions is against a notice by the environment ministry asking Lavasa to prove it did not violate environmental norms, stalling construction at the site. The second was against a report by the ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) that said the project had damaged the environment and violated land acquisition norms.
“We were inclined to give permission to Lavasa Corp. to withdraw the petition but another PIL (public interest litigation) is pending before us and all the issues in that petition are yet to be decided, and we have decided status quo should be maintained as per the earlier MoEF order,” Justice Ranjana Desai said in the order. “In these circumstances, we express that if the petition is withdrawn, then till such time the MoEF decides the application of Lavasa Corp., status quo should be maintained.”
Disagreeing with this, Lavasa’s counsel Mukul Rohatgi declined to withdraw the petitions. Hearing in the case has been adjourned till further notice, said the high court division bench comprising Justices Desai and Rajesh G. Ketkar.
Lavasa is a hill city covering 20,000 acres in the Western Ghats near Pune and has seen an investment of Rs.4,000 crore so far. Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd holds a 64.9% stake in Lavasa, and Avantha Group, 16%. Venkateshwara Hatcheries Group and a private investor hold 12.79% each.
Earlier in the day, Rohatgi said Lavasa wanted to deal directly with the ministry and not go through the court in the matter. “It’s a conscious decision by us to withdraw these petitions because I have lost Rs.300 crore already due to the ‘stop-work’ and if this case goes on in court, chances are that I will lose another Rs.500 crore,” he had said.
Meanwhile, Darius Khambatta, counsel for MoEF, filed an affidavit before the high court containing the minutes of a March meeting of the EAC. The panel had recommended that in view of the investments made and the infrastructure already developed, “pending construction work of 257 buildings may be allowed subject to” conditions.
But the pending PIL filed by activist Medha Patkar’s National Alliance of People’s Movements alleges MoEF is trying to regularize illegal construction by Lavasa by modifying its earlier order and allowing partial construction.
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