Plea in NGT opposes MoEF order on clearances

Pune social worker moves tribunal, says latest notification will deplete green cover

November 29, 2018 12:51 am | Updated 12:51 am IST - Shoumojit Banerjee

Pune: A Pune-based petitioner has filed an application before the principal bench of National Green Tribunal in New Delhi challenging the Environment Ministry’s recent notification easing environmental norms for realtors.

The November 14 notification, issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF& CC) empowers local bodies like the municipal corporations and panchayats to sanction environmental clearances for construction projects which have a built-up area between 20,000 sq m and 50,000 sq m.

The petition, filed by Shashikant Kamble, alleges that local bodies are the biggest violators of the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. It said municipalities, local authorities and panchayat bodies are major defaulters when it comes to adhering to environmental laws, adding the power of regulatory bodies like the Maharashtra State Pollution Control Board would be severely curtailed as local bodies would interfere in its functioning.

“The Environment Ministry has further failed to produce any study, literature or evaluation for taking such a retrograde decision and go back to a pre-2004 situation. At the time, the failure of local bodies was considered to be the chief reason for bringing building and constructions activity within the Environmental Impact Assesment framework,” said Mr. Kamble, a city-based social worker.

“With the Parliamentary election at hand, the ruling [Bharatiya Janata Party] party has deliberately eased the norms for securing an environmental clearance certificate with a clear eye to winning over the builder lobby, which constitutes the prime source of election funds,” said advocate Tosif Shaikh, counsel for the petitioner.

Mr. Shaikh also said the area cleared for residential and other projects would naturally exceed the built-up area limit, which would mean clearing more ecological zones for building activity.

While realtors are elated, activists said the notification, if implemented, could have disastrous results for Pune's ecology and forest cover, already ravaged by indiscriminate construction.

“The present BJP government, like the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government before it, is least interested in preserving the environment or concerned about ‘regulation’. The Fadnavis government had promised plant 10 crore trees when it came to power, but this turned out to be a hollow promise,” said Right to Information activist Vijay Kumbhar.

Mr. Kumbhar said despite 154 projects put on hold by the current State government, no action had been taken against realtors for defaulting on environmental norms.

“Since 2006, environmental norms have been steadily bent by governments to favour realtors. So, with elections round the corner, it is hardly surprising that the Centre has come up with this ‘instrument’ to further water down the procedure for securing environmental clearances,” Mr. Kumbhar said, observing that in mega-projects like Lavasa, environmental clearance norms had been routinely flouted.

Activist Vivek Velankar of the ‘Sajag Nagrik Manch’ said the current government, for all its ‘pro-environment’ talk, acted in a contrarian manner. “The ‘disputed areas’ of ecological value will be ruthlessly taken over by builders for their grandiose projects, given that the pressure of the corporator-builder lobby is overwhelming at local levels. The notification, if implemented, would spell doom for Pune district’s fast-shrinking green cover,” Mr. Velankar said.

Incidentally, the Delhi High Court earlier this week had stayed the ministry’s notification after hearing a petition filed by two environmental NGOs.

This petition opposing the Centre’s notification, filed by the Society for Protection of Environment & Biodiversity and the Social Action for Forest and Environment, had contended that the move to keep builders out of the rigour of the EIA would “lead to large-scale pan-India environmental degradation”.

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