TAMIL NADU

SIPCOT told to get environmental nod before acquiring land

K.T.Sangameswaran



“Though custodian of natural resources is State, no counter was filed on behalf of government”

“While hearing objections, the authority should simultaneously approach the EIAA for clearance”



CHENNAI: The statutory authority under the Tamil Nadu Acquisition of Land for Industrial Purposes Act should approach the State-level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (EIAA) for clearance before proceeding further in acquiring about 642 hectares in and around Vallakottai and Vallamkandigai villages in Kancheepuram district, the Madras High Court has said.

Disposing of a public interest litigation petition, a Division Bench comprising Justices Elipe Dharma Rao and K.K.Sasidharan, said if the authority gave clearance for the project, the government could proceed further with land acquisition.

In his petition, M.Velu, a Councillor of Kancheepuram District Panchayat, said Vallakottai had several lakes and ponds.

These water bodies were well connected with feeding canals from the wetlands. Most of the villagers predominantly depended on agriculture and allied activities. Water from Andheri flowed into the tank of the ancient Vallakottai Murugan temple.

He submitted that the Industries Department and SIPCOT were taking steps to acquire lands in and around the two villages for allotting the lands to various private industrial establishments. To prevent conversion of land use from agricultural to industrial and to protect the various lakes, ponds and feeding canals, the present writ petition has been filed.

In its counter, SIPCOT said there was no conversion of land as alleged. Only those lands that were identified as dry lands and which had not been put to agricultural use for the past several years had been identified for acquisition.

To maintain the contiguity of lands, certain pockets of wet land, which were not put to agricultural use, had been included in the proposal. The lands would be allotted to non-polluting industries.

The Bench said though the custodian of the natural resources was the State, no counter was filed on behalf of the government.

The petitioner's counsel contended that the authorities had no concern for loss of ecology and their proposal would ultimately destroy the natural streams, ponds, lakes and wet lands.

Gifts of nature

The Bench observed that lakes and other water bodies were gifts of nature. The valuable resources should be protected.

It said environmental management was not the government's concern alone. People should take up these issues like any other burning issue concerning them personally. There was no question of taking an indifferent attitude in such matters.

“Unfortunately, in the eagerness to acquire more and more property, even rivers, water bodies and lakes are not left free.”

The court said land acquisition proceedings were only in the preliminary stage now. It granted liberty to the petitioner to make a comprehensive representation within 15 days before the statutory authority constituted to hear objections relating to the land acquisition in question. While hearing the objections, the authority should simultaneously approach the EIAA for clearance.

As undertaken by SIPCOT, appropriate provisions should be incorporated in the lease agreements mandating preservation of ecology and to maintain ponds and other natural streams by the industrial units concerned.