Centre places before Supreme Court findings of expert panel

NEW DELHI: Centre on Tuesday placed before the Supreme Court details of the minutes of an expert committee which opined that the location of a large commercial complex in the eco-fragile Vasant Kunj Ridge area of south Delhi was ``environmentally unsound'' and the impact of the construction of such malls had not been assessed beforehand.

In an affidavit filed before a Bench comprising Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia, the Ministry of Environment and Forest, said after detailed consideration on July 29, the Committee came to the conclusion that construction works had commenced without obtaining environmental clearance in contravention to the notification of July 2004.

Conceding that many proponents had constructed very substantially and awarding clearance even with conditions is largely a compromise with the de-facto situation, the Ministry said ``the expert committee is of the opinion that at this stage only damage control is possible by strict implementation of EMP and resource conservation measures in the project construction and operational stages.

Maintaining that existing vacant plots of the shopping malls should not be auctioned by DDA, the affidavit said the committee has suggested that they may be kept open as a fringe of bio-diversity park.

Observing that DDA should have exercised adequate environmental precaution, the committe said ``there is no evidence that environmental impact of the construction of malls was assessed beforehand and that the development of this area or commercial activities was in accordance with the Master Plan''.

The court, which on May one had stayed construction of five shopping malls and project worth Rs.1,290 crore in the ridge area, had sought a report from the Ministry in this regard.

Projects affected

The five shopping malls/projects affected by the stay order are - the Rs.394 crore Ambi Mall (Ambience Developers Pvt Ltd), the Rs.250 crore Empario Mall (Regency Management Services Pvt Ltd), the Rs.358 crore Promenade Mall (Beverly Park Maintenance Services Pvt Ltd), a Rs.90 crore shopping mall by Jasmine Projects and a Rs.89 crore corporate office project by Maruti Udyog Ltd.

Ridge Bachao Andolan has moved the court accusing DDA and other agencies were allowing construction in Vasant Kunj Ridge.

In its affidavit filed earlier, the Environment Ministry had told the court that the Defence Ministry was constructing three buildings in the eco-fragile area against the provisions of EIA Notification (as amended on July 7, 2004.)

The Centre had submitted that the Defence Ministry would use only 19 per cent of the 235 hectare land under its possession in the ridge area and the rest would remain dense forest but the petitioner's counsel contested the claim, saying the constructions covered almost 50 per cent of the said land.- PTI