In a major setback for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday, halted the construction of the country’s first aeronautic testing range in Chitradurga in Karnataka stating that the range did not have clearance from the Karnataka Pollution Control Board (KPCB).
The interim order stalling the construction was passed on a petition filed by environmental activists from Bangalore, who alleged that pastoral lands were being converted to facilitate the range.
The petition filed in February said 10,000 acres of traditional, pastoral land, termed Amrit Mahal Kaval in Karnataka, were being converted for industrial purposes against all norms. The land was transferred by the State government to various organisations including the DRDO, the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Space Research Organisation.
The application wanted the tribunal to restore the traditional pastoral lands to its original self devoid of all encroachments and constructions.
Following the application, the NGT set up an expert committee to ascertain the actual status of the land under question. The report of the committee was submitted recently to the tribunal.
On Wednesday, when the matter came up for hearing, counsel for the respondents said no clearance from the KPCB was necessary for the project. This position, he said, has already been clarified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. “If the NGT passes an order halting the project, this will result in huge loss of public money,” the counsel argued.
However, the bench said the DRDO has indeed applied to the KPCB for consent to establish but had gone ahead with the constructions even as the matter was pending consideration.
This, the bench observed, was not in accordance to norms. Therefore, the tribunal said status quo should be maintained by the project proponents till the KPCB considers their application and processes it as per the requirements of law within two weeks.
The matter was then posted to September 17.