After put on hold for a year, Lavasa's controversial township project on the hills near Pune has been given the green signal subject to a list of conditions that activists say are not strong enough.
Ironically, it was last week's criminal complaint filed by the Maharashtra government against the Lavasa's promoters for violation of green norms that finally paved the way for clearance by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on Wednesday.
After issuing a show cause and stop-work order against Lavasa in November last, the MoEF found the company guilty of violating the Environment Protection Act, slapped a financial penalty on the promoters and demanded a fresh comprehensive environmental impact assessment and management plan.
In a June order, the MoEF indicated that it was willing to clear Lavasa's first phase, subject to five preconditions. Lavasa promised to meet four of these, including an environmental restoration fund, profit percentage earmarked for the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and a revised development plan. However, the first pre-condition remained unfulfilled: that the State government take “credible action” against the company for violation of environmental law.
With the criminal case filed last week, the MoEF now considers that credible action has been taken. Accordingly, the environment clearance has been granted, subject to certain conditions.
However, the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), which has been leading those opposed to the project, is sceptical of the loosely worded conditions listed in the order. “These are very fishy conditions,” said NAPM's Vishambhar Chaudhary. “For example, it says that hill cutting should be avoided ‘as far as possible.' What does that mean?”
The order also says “appropriate measures” should be taken to restore the environment around the project, but does not appear to impose any measurable obligations on Lavasa for mitigation of environmental damage caused by its activities.
“The Expert Committee had made so many recommendations after its visit. For example, it said that the special planning authority status given to Lavasa should be withdrawn…Why was this not included in the clearance?” Mr. Chaudhary said.
As per the order, Lavasa is required to obtain clearances under the Air and Water Act, to minimise the discharge of sewage, effluents and hazardous waste, to regularly monitor the levels of contamination in the air, soil and water, and to conserve energy by 28-35 per cent.
Pune Staff Reporter reports:
Lavasa has said the MoEF clearance is a positive development. “[It] comes as a reprieve for all our stakeholders, including our investors, the villagers and Lavasa Corporation Ltd. The inordinate delay has led to a huge setback to the project and Lavasa Corporation has a challenging task at hand to bring the project up to speed and to meet our commitments,” it said in a statement.
“We had started development work at Lavasa in 2004 with environment clearance granted by the Government of Maharashtra and more importantly after being invited by them to participate in the hill station development Act of 1996,” the company said. It maintained that the MoEF notification (EIA Notification 1996, amended in 2004 and 2006), over which the entire controversy was based, was not applicable to it.