The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has held that environmental clearance (EC) to Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIP) was granted ex post facto , after completion of substantial work, by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) “in violation of law”.
It has also observed that accountability needs to be fixed and remedial measures be taken. For that purpose, it has directed the MoEF&CC to constitute a seven-member expert committee preferably out of expert appraisal committee (EAC) members with relevant sectorial expertise to go into the matter in light of the observations in the present case.
In the judgment posted on its website on Tuesday in a petition filed by one Md. Hayath Udin, a resident of Siddipet district, who is also a farmer affected directly by the project, the Principal Bench of NGT asked the Ministry to constitute the expert committee within a month and it may complete its exercise within six months thereafter shouldering the responsibility of monitoring the panel work to the Secretary of MOEF&CC.
The petitioner moved the NGT with a contention declare the EC granted to KLIP as invalid since substantial work was done by the State Government, project proponent, prior to filing application with the Ministry for clearance.
“We find that in spite of finding illegality in granting EC, it is neither possible nor desirable to undo what has happened, but accountability needs to be fixed and remedial measures taken,” the Bench comprising Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Judicial Member Justice S.P. Wangdi and Expert Member Dr. Nagin Nanda said their judgement.
The NGT Principal Bench suggested that the expert committee could assess the extent of damage caused in going ahead with the project without EC – the period from 2008 to 2017 — and identify the necessary restoration measures. Further, it could look into relief and rehabilitation measures adopted and required to be further adopted, examine effective implementation of environmental management plan (EMP) submitted by the project proponent as also compliance of EC conditions.
“Any affected party will be at liberty to make representation to the MoEF&CC within three weeks along with suggestions and grievances, which may be taken into the account by the expert committee”, the NGT said in its judgement. It has further asked MoEF&CC to consider measures to prevent recurrence of such violations where EC is sought ex post facto .
It is particularly required when the projects are multi-purpose and part of it requires EC, so that such requirement is not defeated on specious plea that the project was partly not covered by the schedule Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification as has happened in the present case, the NGT observed. Instead of confining consideration merely to documentary support, a mechanism is required to be evolved and followed whereby physical verification of material particulars can be undertaken, wherever necessary, it suggested.
In the matter of expansion of the project scope to draw 3 tmc ft of water a day from the present 2 tmc ft, the NGT observed that directions of the Centre are binding on the State unless challenged and set aside.