The National Green Tribunal has agreed to hear a plea challenging the November 9, 2012 environment clearance (EC) granted to Lavasa Corporation Ltd for its $ 31 billion hillside township project in Pune district of Maharashtra.

The Tribunal directed Lavasa, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to file their replies to the petition of a project-hit Pune native before July 24.

Lavasa had opposed the petition at the outset on ground that the plea was time barred as it was filed with a delay of 59 days after the grant of environment clearance.

The company had also said that petitioner Dyaneshwar Vishnu Shedge had not come to the Tribunal with “clean hands” and having sold his land for the project, he is “stopped from raising an objection to the EC granted”.

Mr. Shedge, had contended that he was not aware of the MoEF’s order granting EC and after coming to know about it the villagers of Mugaon, of Mulshi Taluka of Pune assembled and took a decision regarding “the further course of action for setting aside the order granting EC”.

The Tribunal said that the appeal has been filed within 90 days, thus was in consonance with the provision of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act.

As per the NGT Act a plea can be filed within 30 days of passing of an order sought to be challenged and the Tribunal can entertain the petition filed within 60 days after the first 30 days if it is satisfied that the appellant was prevented by sufficient cause from filing the appeal.

“On consideration of submissions advanced interse by the parties we feel in a case like the present one where environmental impact of project on local population in terms of their environmental harm has to be assessed, the approach of this Tribunal, especially set up for the said purpose, should be liberal and not “hyper-technical”, a bench headed by the Tribunal’s Acting Chairperson Justice A S Naidu said.

The bench condoning the delay said “in view of the discussions made above, the delay being less than 90 days, this Tribunal after appreciating pleadings and documents referred is satisfied that there was sufficient reason and that deliberate latches (not acting in reasonable amount of time) cannot be attributed to appellant”.

It also said that Lavasa’s allegations against petitioner and questions relating to locus-standi of Mr. Shedge “involve intricate questions of facts and law which can be dealt with only in course of hearing of the appeal”.

Mr. Shedge had submitted that several “substantial questions” relating to environment are involved and “if the project comes up, the right of the appellant as well as other poor villagers living in the vicinity shall be affected under Article 21 of the Constitution (relating to Fundamental Right to life), in as much as they will be deprived of clean environment and a healthy life”.

The petitioner has alleged that the action of MoEF in granting EC to the project was “arbitrary”.

“There are also several other allegations with regard to the faulty procedure adopted as well as de-relegation of statutory provisions by the MoEF which according to the appellant goes to the root of the decision making process, consequently the EC granted suffers from the vice of non consideration of relevant facts and law and cannot be sustained”, the tribunal noted from the Mr. Shedge’s submissions.

The Tribunal is also hearing a separate petition filed by Lavasa challenging the environment ministry’s decision to impose conditions with the EC, which is likely to be heard on July 19.

Lavasa had also questioned the applicability of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006, requiring environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), for the project.

The MoEF had on November 9, 2011 granted environment clearance to the first phase of Lavasa’s project subject to “strict compliance” of certain terms and conditions.

The decision came after the Maharashtra government had filed a case in a Pune court against the promoters of Lavasa for allegedly violating the Environment Protection Act.

Filing of the case under the EPA was one of the pre-conditions imposed by the MoEF for granting the clearance.

The ministry had laid down five pre-conditions, as suggested by the Expert Appraisal Committee, for Lavasa to comply with before grant of environment clearance.

The conditions included demarcation of land usage such as open spaces, diverting five per cent of its expenses for corporate social responsibility, creation of an environment restoration fund, which in turn will be monitored by verification and monitoring committee and a submission by the company that violations would not be repeated.

Besides, the ministry has set out for Lavasa a list of 47 conditions, including having a separate budget for community development activities and income generating programmes and vocational training for individuals to take up self-employment and jobs.

The project developers were also asked to make a clear demarcation of ‘no development and construction zones’.