January 27th, Pune-
National Alliance of People’s Movements welcomes the decision of Mumbai High Court related to Lavasa. The High Court today maintained the ‘Stop Work’ order for another one and a half months while hearing the petition against MoEF filed by Lavasa. Mumbai High Court has posted the Lavasa hearing now on March 10.
Today, in the High Court on behalf of NAPM, Adv. Ashish Mehta maintained that there is no provision under the Environment Protection Act to regularise Lavasa’s environmental violations. Now, when the Expert Committee has also certified all violations existing in the project, Lavasa should not be regularized merely after imposing financial penalties. NAPM insisted that MoEF has to take a strict decision under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986.
Today, while responding to the charges levied on Lavasa for environmental violations in the MoEF’s Expert Committee’s report, the counsel of Lavasa denied accepting the report in its entirety. Moreover, Lavasa sought six weeks time from the High Court to amend its petition against MoEF and to submit documents that were asked by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Having said so the counsel of Lavasa also asked High Court to let it start work at the project site but the High Court denied giving any decision in this regard of lifting stop work order.
Worth noting that on January, 17th, a detailed report of 74 pages was submitted to the Mumbai High Court highlighting Union Environment Ministry’s decision that Lavasa project has grossly violated the environmental norms and the Ministry will continue with its stop work order issued earlier on 25th November, 2010. The report has been prepared by the Expert Committee (constituted by MoEF on directions from Hon’ble Bombay High court) examining environmental disputes related to Lavasa Hill Township project developing near Pune. The Report had concluded that Lavasa has violated the Environmental Laws – Environment Protection Act 1986, EIA Notification 1994, EIA Notification 2004 and EIA Notification 2006 and has caused a massive damage to the environment and ecology. Hence, the project is liable to face the consequence of being charged with the huge penalty and further decision on the project implementation will be considered by the Ministry only after all factual reports and information desired by the Ministry will be furnished on time.
Once again, NAPM reiterates the status quo on the project as a significant victory for the project affected people who have been at the core of the movement demanding justice. NAPM also endorses MoEF’s Expert committee’s report in its “entirety” since all of these are fully within the legal framework. The report has strongly expressed that the construction activity undertaken by the Lavasa Corporation Ltd. is unauthorized. The report had declared a number of environmental violations including one about the height of the gate which is 1043 metres and when 5 per cent of the project was complete, MoEF permission should have been sought.
However, NAPM further expresses that MoEF should also take timely decision on violation of Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. Para 6 (xii) of the report prepared by Expert Committee reveals that this Act has been violated by Lavasa with respect to F.S. No. 35 and that enquiry is in progress. The Expert Committee report brings out violations by Lavasa of various environment legislations and notifications and Forest Conservation Act, 1980. But where the former has been pointed out vividly by the report the latter is left unattended. We believe that MoEF will amend the final order as soon as a decision on this issue is taken. Also, we presume that separate action will be prescribed by MoEF in case Lavasa is proved to have violated the said Act.
We appreciate that the MoEF’s Order and Report clearly recommended a review of ‘Special Planning Authority’ given to Lavasa by Maharashtra State Government and of ‘Hill Station Development Policy’ of Maharashtra. The report also raises concern over land transactions ranging from private land purchase/transactions, ceiling land transfer, Adivasi land transfer and alienation and MKVDC and government land transfer. Also without any proper permission how company has been allowed to build 11 check dams of which few are within the main river basin. This and many other conclusions such as those related especially to the clearances granted to the project without obeying government legislations in place are issues on which we expect the Maharashtra State Govt. to act on; promptly and honestly. We think these are the basic and important issues which cannot be left unnoticed.
We would like to reinstate that the Hill Station Development Policy and Special Planning Authority should be reviewed by the High Power Committee.
We trust that MoEF and Mumbai High Court will also uphold its order dated 25th November 2010 which had directed removal of all unauthorized structures constructed from March 2004 till date if the project is found guilty. Lavasa should not be regularized merely after claiming financial penalties. A strong decision should need to be taken under Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act 1986 for project demolition. We hope that in case of Lavasa also appropriate action will be initiated by upholding the principle of natural justice.
We assert that the Ministry and the Judiciary should take clear and strong position on Lavasa project’s illegality which cannot be diluted on the basis of criteria such as investment made till date. NAPM insists that the issue should be considered in its entirety of environmental protection and respecting the Rights of the local people. By regularising Lavasa’s violations, a bad precedent will be set which will be followed by the other projects in the country to violate the law of the land with impunity and seek clearance later. As regards “employment”, it too cannot be a criteria to regularise or give any concession to Lavasa since the corporation also has not given permanent rozgar to the locals and only provided contractual labour work to a few hundred while taking away the land, livelihood, shelter and dignity of poor and resource-less.
We hope that the Mumbai High Court and MoEF will take into consideration concerns and suggestions highlighted above and hope that the justice will be rendered to the project affected local people, environment and ecology.
Medha Patkar, Suniti SR, Vishwambhar Chaudhry, Rifat Mumtaz,
Prasad Bagve, Gyaneshwar Shedge, Leelabai Margale, Thumabai Walhekar
Ph: 09423571784 / 09423965153