Lavasa can survive if it pays fine, follows norms: Ministry

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Lavasa, Pune, 20 January 2011: The Environment Ministry has handed the Lavasa Lake City a lifeline, even as it declared the project unauthorised. If the Lavasa Corporation is prepared to pay a fine, set up an Environmental Restoration Fund and follow strict terms and conditions, the Ministry is prepared to consider the future of the housing project on merits, the final order issued by the Ministry on Tuesday said. In the meanwhile, the stop work order remains in place, so that status quo is maintained at the construction site.


The Ministry has been investigating the Rs. 3,000 crore project’s compliance with environmental norms since it issued a show cause notice and stop work order in November 2010, based on complaints by civil society activists. The Ministry found that the project, involving the development of hill station townships near Pune, is in violation of the Environmental Impact Assessment notification of 1994, its 2004 amendment and the fresh EIA notification of 2006. A site visit by a Ministry team earlier this month also found that the project has caused considerable environmental damage.


Despite these violations, the Ministry could allow the project to continue, thanks to the investments and labour which have already gone into the project, third party rights which are accrued, the employment generated, and the “claimed upliftment of the area”. Apart from the “substantial penalty” for violation of green laws, Lavasa has been told to create an Environmental Restoration Fund, with “sufficiently large corpus” to be managed by an independent body of stakeholders under Ministry supervision.



The Ministry is also imposing “stringent” conditions to ensure that no further environmental degradation takes place, while a time bound schedule is set up to rectify the damage that has already been done. Lavasa has been told to submit detailed reports of past and future work plans and audited financial statements. It will also have to submit a comprehensive EIA report and management plan. If the company gives “relevant and credible material”, the Ministry is prepared to consider the project on merits, said the order.


In a stinging reaction to the final order given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the Lavasa Corporation Limited (LCL) has challenged it, stating that the report seemed to magnify minor environmental issues to justify continuance of the stop work. The order, issued to the LCL on Monday, states that the project has violated environmental norms, but can be considered on merits with imposition of terms and conditions. It has, however, asked for the status quo to be maintained, with no construction activity undertaken.


The order, at the foremost mentions that the LCL violated the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 1994, as amended in 2004 and 2006. The LCL said on Tuesday that the order was more about jurisdiction than on environmental issues as it reiterated that the Maharashtra government was not authorised to issue the clearances. The LCL claimed that the MoEF did not have objective and measurable norms.



“Therefore, instead of restricting themselves to environmental issues, the MoEF has resorted to questioning the State government jurisdiction, the Special Planning Authority (SPA), the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC) land transfer, land purchase, the Lavasa Master Plan approval by Collector, Hill Station policy, regional development plan, etc. These have nothing to do with environmental issues which the court had directed them to study,” the LCL said.


However, while the MoEF said that the categorisation of the projects according to the EIA notification 2006 should be reviewed, the LCL said that the “MoEF itself accepts that their EIA notification 2006 is wrong and they need to relook at critical aspects. This clearly proves that environment is still an emerging subject/science and needs detailed deliberation and rethink.”


The LCL complained that ‘no weightage’ has been given to the huge body of data submitted by the company on environment protection and enhancement initiatives, which included various lab test reports from MoEF-approved labs and the visual evidence shown to them during their site visit. It also said that “the report overlooks the fact that the MoEF is yet to give environmental clearance to the second-phase expansion of 3,000 hectares even after 18 months have passed since the LCL applied for it.”



On the issue of local support for the project, the LCL claimed that at the time of the visit of the Expert Appraisal Committee in the first week of January, the villagers supporting the Lavasa were more than 1,000 in numbers, whereas those supporting Medha Patkar were a mere dozen. “Yet the committee gives disproportionately more space to highlighting issues of Medha Patkar supporters,” it said.


The LCL has raised dissent over the fact that the restoration and enhancement of the ecology of the place, which the LCL claims was substantially denuded to begin with, finds neither acknowledgment nor appreciation anywhere in the report. “If the report misrepresents the state of affairs at the site by amplifying minor faults and ignoring the environmental work done, it is bound to have a negative bearing on the decision of the competent authority,” the LCL said.


Activists from the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), which has filed a petition against the environmental violation caused by the project in the Bombay High Court, have expressed satisfaction over the report. “They have withheld all the points mentioned by us. The order also states that the law has been violated which, for us, is a kind of conviction. The penalties can be imposed only after the project gets a clearance, which is impossible at this stage.


So we are confident that the High Court will give a decision that is within the ambit of the law,” Vishwambar Choudhari of the NAPM told The Hindu. He urged that the LCL should also be given similar treatment to that of the Adarsh, as both constructions violated different notifications of the same Act — the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

- The Hindu / Agencies



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Comments on this Article
RAHUL JOSHI, NAGDA Thu, January-20-2011, 4:48
It s a very beautiful place If i got a chance then i will come to see that wonderland
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