“You can’t commit legal blunders and get away with it,” the National Green Tribunal said on Thursday as it pulled up the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
A Bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said that the MoEF had not “applied its mind” while amending a notification published on December 9, 2016, exempting construction projects from the process of environment impact assessment (EIA) and prior environmental clearance.
The MoEF, in a recent notification, had exempted real estate projects from obtaining prior environmental clearance. It had even put in a “self-declaration” clause for smaller projects (less than 20,000 sq metres). For bigger projects, the environmental clearance (EC) and building permission would be given by urban local bodies as part of an “integrated format”.
“Why don’t you [the MoEF] do something constructive for the system? There is a way of doing things. We don’t understand why do you do these funny things....If you wanted to amend the notification, you could have simply said that though the new projects are not required to take EC, each project once cleared by local authorities would come with certain conditions. You tell your Ministry and all others not to act under the new notification, otherwise we will stay the notification. You can’t do legal blunders and get away with it,” the Bench said, granting the petitioner’s liberty to approach the NGT if a single permission is granted under the new notification.
The matter has now been listed for hearing on January 12.
Earlier, the green panel had refused to stay the December 9 notification and issued notices to the Ministries of Environment and Forests and Urban Development, seeking a reply before January 4.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by the Society for Protection of Environment and Biodiversity, which sought directions for the notification to be quashed on the ground that it contravened provisions of the EIA notification, 2006, and the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
The plea alleged that the notification tried to “circumvent” the EIA Notification, 2006, in the name of “ease of doing business”.