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SC rejects plea against Kerala HC judgment in Lulu mall case

A view of High Court of Kerala. K.K. Mustafah.

A view of High Court of Kerala. K.K. Mustafah. | Photo Credit: K.K. Mustafah

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed an appeal against a Kerala High Court judgment which rejected the contentions of a public interest litigant that the Lulu shopping mall in Thiruvananthapuram violated coastal regulation zone (CRZ) regulations and environment impact assessment (EIA) notification.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana rejected the plea by M.K. Salim that the “completed Lulu Mall shall be removed/demolished” as the area of the construction fell within the prohibited distance of the High Tide Line. The Bench orally remarked that “these types of businesses we should not entertain” before junking Mr. Salim’s petition which urged the Supreme Court to “restore the ecological balance” of the area.

“A committee was appointed, they measured and now everything is over… Sorry, dismissed,” Chief Justice Ramana addressed the petitioner’s lawyer, senior advocate Arijit Prasad, in a brief hearing.

The mall was represented by senior advocates Mukul Rohatgi, V. Giri and advocate Haris Beeran.

Mr. Salim, who was also represented by advocate Suvidutt M.S., had challenged the High Court’s judgment of August 2021. The High Court had concluded that the mall project did not violate either the EIA notification or the CRZ regulations. The petitioner had contended that the environmental clearance (EC) for the project was granted without jurisdiction or authority.

The petitioner had contended in the High Court that the State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) had no authority to grant clearance for a building having a built-up area of 2.32 lakhs sq.m. According to the petitioner, SEIAA had no authority to grant clearance beyond 1.5 lakhs sq.m.

Mr. Salim had also alleged that the grant of EC after categorising the project as a Township Area Development Project under clause 8(b) of the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, was incorrect. He had further alleged that the construction fell within the prohibited distance from two water bodies _ the Aakulam Lake and the Parvathy Puthanar Canal. He said the Aakulam Lake was a saline infiltrated water body from which the prescribed distance under the CRZ notification was not maintained. He had also alleged violation of the distance rule under the CRZ even in respect of the Parvathy Puthanar Canal. He had contended that the construction was “only a stone’s throw away from the canal”. Mr. Salim had argued that the construction was on ‘puramboke’ land, which was wrongly depicted as private land. He had finally contended that his representation to the District Collector about the issue had met with no response.

“The construction of Lulu Shopping Mall falls under CRZ-III C violations. The category of Coastal Regulation Zone-III is authorised only for permissible activities. But the High Court failed to consider the notification stating that the building falls under the CRZ-III category and arrived at a wrong conclusion that it does not violate the notification or the regulations,” Mr. Salim’s petition argued in the Supreme Court.

It said the EIA notification imposed restrictions on the execution of new projects and on the expansion of existing projects until their potential environmental impact was assessed and approved by the grant of an EC.

It said the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority had not conducted any study or research with regard to the CRZ-III violation but relied on certificates produced from Anna University, Chennai, showing the project was built beyond CRZ-III regulations of the lake and the construction was carried out keeping 100 metres from the High Tide Line.

“The place where the mall is constructed is a saline prone marshy land influenced by the sea water. The area is highly polluted and the water is not fit for human consumption. Earlier, the site was dense, had a large variety of tree species and belonged to the Forest Department. While the construction started, the process of deforestation was carried out and the environment was affected,” the petition had said.

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Printable version | Aug 17, 2022 2:35:42 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/sc-rejects-plea-against-kerala-hc-judgment-in-lulu-mall-case/article65775522.ece