MPCB officials still undecided on whom the Board should name as accused

Nationalist Congress Party chief and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, along with party and Cabinet colleague Praful Patel, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi at her residence in New Delhi on Thursday.

While the NCP leaders described the 20-minute meeting, which took place after a gap of several months — and which was the first after Ms. Gandhi's return to Delhi after her surgery — as a “courtesy call,” senior Congress sources pointed out to The Hindu that it coincided with the court deadline expiring for the Maharashtra government to initiate criminal proceedings against the Lavasa Corporation for violating environmental norms.

The decision to initiate criminal proceedings, was, however, delayed by a day, even as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan directed the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to start proceedings against the controversial hill city on Thursday morning.

The MPCB officials are apparently still undecided on whom the Board should name as the accused — whether to name Mr. Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule, also an NCP MP, and her husband Sadanand Sule, as well as State government officials, who had cleared the project.

“The final decision to file an application with the Pune district magistrate court will be taken on Friday. We are in the process of finalising who will be named in the application,” D.T. Deole, senior law officer of the MPCB, told The Hindu.

The Sules had a 21.97 per cent stake in the Lavasa Corporation between 2002 and 2004, and they sold it later. Mr. Pawar is said to have been instrumental in the establishment of the ambitious project, widely advertised as India's first planned hill city.

On October 20, the Bombay High Court set a two-week deadline for the government to take action against Lavasa for violations under Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986.

This action was one of the five pre-conditions laid down by the Environment and Forests Ministry, before it takes a final decision on environmental clearance for the 2000-acre township. Under Section 15 of the EPA, the accused may face imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years along with a fine which may extend to Rs. 1 lakh.

However, doubts are being raised about the MPCB conducting the investigations. For, it was the board which, in the first place, gave the Lavasa Corporation permission.

The National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), which has filed a writ petition against Lavasa, alleges that if the MPCB conducts the investigation, the process will only amount to a cover-up. “The MPCB is party to the violations. This is a case of criminal conspiracy. Public servants and company officials are together party to the offence. We demand that an FIR be lodged against them,” said NAPM advocate Y.P. Singh. The NAPM has filed a notice in the High Court naming as accused 27 persons, including Ms. Sule and the former and existing directors of Lavasa. Mr. Singh has demanded that specific evidence be linked to each person named in the application, and until then “trial cannot be set in motion.”