CHENNAI: One of the iconic residential projects in the city – TVH ‘Quadrant’– managed to get away with a penalty of Rs 1 crore for violating environmental norms. Several high-profile individuals that include members of the judiciary who invested in the project are breathing a sigh of relief.
The southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its order dismissed the application filed by Ashish Nawalgaria, a resident of Alwarpet, demanding permanent injunction and demolition of the building.
The application was set aside on maintainability and issue of judicial propriety.
While refusing to draw similarities with seven Tamil Nadu builders who were impleaded in S P Muthuraman’s case where principal bench of National Green Tribunal slapped a penalty of 5 per cent of the project cost, the southern bench said TVH has obtained environment clearance post facto from State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and the seven builders had not even applied for environmental clearance.
However, the court did not give immunity to TVH for willfully violating the provisions of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006.
“It is no doubt true, as held by the Principal Bench in S P Muthuraman’s case that the Court/Tribunal may not be particular about demolition of the project which is almost completed but at the same time stringent conditions, including environmental compensation, should be imposed. Mere dismissal of the application on limitation will not disentitle this Tribunal from invoking “Polluter Pays” principle, when statutory violations are admittedly committed,” the order reads.
The bench, comprising Justice P Jyothimani and expert member P S Rao, directed the TVH to deposit Rs 1 crore as environment compensation.
The amount is to be deposited with the Member Secretary, Chennai Rivers Restoration Trust (CRRT) within four weeks.
“We make it clear that the environmental compensation is imposed on account of the intentional default and the conduct attributable only to the project proponents,” the order said.
The court further added, “We direct the project proponents that the above said amount of environmental compensation imposed shall not be passed on to the purchasers/prospective purchasers either as an element of sale or in any other manner.”
The green court declared that TVH, on complying with the order, will be entitled to proceed with the project and the interim order passed by the tribunal against the project on February 26 stands vacated.
Failed to acquire prior environmental clearance
In the cases of construction of buildings greater than 20,000 sq.m, prior environmental clearance (EC) is a mandatory requirement, as per the EIA Notification, 2006. TVH reportedly commenced the project work in June 4 2012 with an application for EC being made only in July, 2012. The SEIAA ignored the provisions of the EIA Notification, 2006, and the Environmental Law to grant ex-post facto environmental clearance, which according to the applicant, was granted by virtue of the Office Memorandum issued by the MoEF and CC dated December 12, 2012 and June 27, 2013. Both these OMs were squashed by NGT, Delhi saying they are in contravention of EIA Notification, 2006.
Applicant to challenge order in apex court
Applicant’s counsel said that he will be challenging the NGT order in the SC. It can be learnt that the larger issue relating to judgment of Principal Bench, other than constitution of the Expert Committee to find out ecological and environmental loss caused because of illegal construction put up by the project proponents without prior EC, is still pending before the SC.