The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday termed as “disastrous” the Centre’s view that the panel’s expert members who are to visit Nirma’s cement plant site in Gujarat won’t be able to ascertain if the area is a waterbody or not due to prevailing drought conditions there.

A vacation bench headed by Justice P Jyothimani made the observation while dismissing the applications of MoEF and the farmers of villages Patva, Vangar, Doliya, Samadhiyala and Padhiyarka in Bhavnagar district, seeking a stay of the NGT’s May 28 order directing a site visit by its expert members.

“Ministry of Environment and Forests’ (MoEF) contention that a pre-monsoon visit will not help the expert members of this tribunal to ascertain whether the area is a waterbody or wasteland amounts to questioning the expert members’ ability.

“Such a view is disastrous and not expected from the government... We fail to see any reason for filing these applications. This is totally an abuse of the process of law. Applications stand dismissed,” the bench said.

MoEF and the villagers had sought a stay of the NGT’s May 28 order, to challenge the same before the Supreme Court.

The May 28 order was passed by the NGT to find out the correct factual position of the area, which Nirma claims is a wasteland while the villagers contend is a wetland.

The case pertains to Nirma Ltd’s plea challenging the MoEF order revoking the environmental clearance granted to it for its 1.91 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity cement plant, 1.5 MTPA coke oven plant and 50 MW captive power plant at Bhavnagar.

During the day’s proceedings, the bench expressed its unhappiness with the MoEF’s presumption that the NGT’s expert members will not be able to arrive at an appropriate decision if they visit the site before the monsoons.

The bench also asked the MoEF counsel whether she is saying that one can’t find out if it (the site) is a waterbody or a wasteland if it is not raining.

The counsel for MoEF clarified that she was not questioning the ability of the expert members, but was apprehensive that the drought conditions in the state will not show whether the area is a waterbody as there is hardly any water in the area.

Opposing the pleas of the MoEF and the villagers, Nirma’s counsel contended that the farmer’s application “casts imputations, not just once but several times, on the integrity of the members of the NGT“.

“I am disappointed that the MoEF is party to such litigation,” the counsel said.

He also contended that if the villagers could file the application against the May 28 order on June 3, they could have directly moved the apex court on that day and could have obtained an order by now.

“So they can’t say they were caught by surprise by the May 28 order,” the lawyer said, adding that they do not have a right of stay without even moving the apex court.