Green Tribunal rejects plea challenging nod for Jaitapur project

The National Green Tribunal has rejected a petition challenging the environment clearance granted to the 9,900 MW Jaitapur Nuclear Power Park in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district on the ground that the plea was time barred.

The Tribunal dismissed the plea of Janahit Seva Samiti, a non-governmental organisation, challenging the November 26, 2010 Environmental Clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to the project, saying the petition was filed after a delay of 294 days on September 17, 2011 and hence was “grossly barred by time.”

As per the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act, a plea can be filed within 30 days of passing an order sought to be challenged and the Tribunal, to its satisfaction, can condone a further delay of 60 days.

“This Tribunal, being a statutory authority, is bound by the provisions of the statute and cannot traverse beyond the provisions of the NGT Act. Under Section-16 [relating to appellate jurisdiction of NGT] there is a clear bar not to entertain appeals filed beyond 60 days,” a Bench headed by the Tribunal's Acting Chairperson Justice A.S. Naidu said.

“Though this Tribunal is liberal in condoning the delay, as and when it finds sufficient reasons and is not super-technical, but then being a statutory tribunal it cannot ignore the period stipulated in the statute. In this case, we are not inclined to condone the delay and dismiss this petition. Consequently, the appeal also stands dismissed,” it added.

The plea contended that “the project is likely to cause hazard to the environment as well as ecology.”

The NGO pleaded that the NGT Act came into force from October 18, 2010, but the Tribunal started functioning only from June, 2011, and it took all “effective and diligent steps to file the appeal as early as possible.”

The plea was “strongly opposed” by the MoEF, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, saying that delay could not be condoned as they had “substantially gone ahead with the project,” incurred huge expenses and “any hindrance at this stage would cause great prejudice.”

The Bench noted that as the Tribunal started functioning only from June 2011, the Supreme Court had in a judgment extended the period for filing an appeal by 60 days commencing from May 30, 2011 and “thus the last date for filing an appeal was extended till July 30, 2011.”

“The appellant [NGO] failed to avail of the opportunity granted by the Supreme Court and did not file the appeal within extended period too. The appeal was filed only in the month of September, 2011. Thus, the same is grossly barred by time,” the Bench said.

However, in another case, the NGT has agreed to hear a plea challenging the November 9, 2012 environment clearance (EC) granted to Lavasa Corporation Ltd for its $31-billion hillside township project in Pune.

The Tribunal directed Lavasa, the MoEF and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to file their replies to the petition of a project-hit Pune native before July 24.

Lavasa opposed the petition on the ground that the plea was time barred as it was filed with a delay of 59 days after the grant of environment clearance.

The company said petitioner Dyaneshwar Vishnu Shedge had not come to the Tribunal with “clean hands” and, having sold his land for the project, he is “stopped from raising an objection to the EC granted.”

Mr. Shedge contended that he was not aware of the MoEF's order granting the EC and after coming to know about it the villagers of Mugaon, of Mulshi Taluka of Pune assembled and took a decision regarding “the further course of action for setting aside the order granting EC.”

The Tribunal said the appeal had been filed within 90 days, and thus was in consonance with the provision of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) Act.

“On consideration of submissions advanced inter se by the parties we feel in a case like the present one where environmental impact of project on local population in terms of their environmental harm has to be assessed, the approach of this Tribunal, especially set up for the said purpose, should be liberal and not ‘hyper-technical,' the Bench said.

Bench condones delay

The Bench, condoning the delay, said: “In view of the discussions made above, the delay being less than 90 days, this Tribunal, after appreciating pleadings and documents referred, is satisfied that there was sufficient reason and that deliberate latches [not acting in reasonable amount of time] cannot be attributed to the appellant.”

It said Lavasa's allegations against the petitioner and questions relating to the locus standi of Mr. Shedge “involve intricate questions of facts and law, which can be dealt with only in the course of hearing of the appeal.”

Mr. Shedge submitted that several “substantial questions” relating to environment are involved and “if the project comes up, the right of the appellant as well as other poor villagers living in the vicinity shall be affected under Article 21 of the Constitution [relating to Fundamental Right to life], in as much as they will be deprived of clean environment and a healthy life.”

Bench says Janahit Seva Samiti plea against Jaitapur is time barred

Lavasa, MoEF, MPCB told to file their replies