Environment Ministry’s memorandum stayed

It provided a procedure to grant post facto environmental clearance to projects

Updated - July 16, 2021 04:25 am IST

Published - July 16, 2021 12:34 am IST - Madurai

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 22/10/2019: A view of Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, in Madurai. Photo: R. Ashok / The Hindu

Madurai, Tamil Nadu, 22/10/2019: A view of Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, in Madurai. Photo: R. Ashok / The Hindu

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Thursday granted an interim stay on the operation of an office memorandum issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, which provided a procedure for the grant of post facto clearance to projects that have come up without environmental clearance under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification, 2006.

A Division Bench of Justices T.S. Sivagnanam and S. Ananthi granted the stay on a public interest litigation petition filed by activist R. Fatima of Thoothukudi. The petitioner challenged the office memorandum issued on July 7. The law mandated prior clearance, and there was no provision for the grant of post facto clearance under the EIA notification. The memorandum provided a backdoor entry to violators, she said.

By way of the memorandum, violators of the EIA notification could obtain clearance and regularise violations. The EIA was an important tool to ensure the optimal use of natural resources for sustainable development. Its purpose was to identify, examine, assess and evaluate the likely and probable impact of a proposed project on the environment, the petitioner said.

She said a project could be granted sanction to commence activity only after an exhaustive assessment of risks. The mandate of ensuring compliance before the commencement of construction and operation was an important aspect of the EIA notification and it helped to ensure protection and preservation of the environment.

The ex-post facto clearance was alien to the environmental jurisprudence, she said.

Post facto clearances destroyed the very fabric of the environmental regulation. The office memorandum ran counter to the EIA notification and had no legal validity.

It was against the principles of natural justice, and the right of the people to participate in environmental decision-making. If this procedure was allowed to be followed, it would cause an irreversible damage to the environment. It was violative of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, she said.

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