Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The suspension of construction in the controversial Maheshwar hydel power project is back in the court of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), after a meeting convened by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on Monday.

Last week, after a similar meeting, under pressure from the PMO and the Madhya Pradesh government, the MoEF modified its suspension order, allowing a partial resumption of construction citing safety concerns.

However, after Monday's meeting, MoEF officials say that the PMO clearly indicated that there was no question of the work being allowed to continue until relief and rehabilitation (R&R) was done.

“The PMO put the ball back in our court,” a senior MoEF official said. “[The PMO] now says the MoEF and the Madhya Pradesh government should take the issue forward.”While more than 80 per cent of the dam's construction is complete and submergence is expected in November, barely five per cent of R&R work for the 60,000 oustees has been completed.

The dam is being built in Madhya Pradesh by the private S. Kumar's group, but the State government has offered strong support in fighting the MoEF's suspension order issued in April.The PMO intervened after Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made a personal representation to Prime Manmohan Singh on the issue.

At Monday's meeting, State officials quoted an order of the Jabalpur High court in July 2009 saying that work could continue.