MoEF’s lifeline to erring builders raises eyebrows

Ministry claims it has no information about High Court’s stay on approval of violations.

CHENNAI: Disregarding the Madras High Court order, Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) seems to have kept its backdoor open for erring builders to get post-facto environmental clearance and processing hundreds of violation cases from across the country, which may amount to contempt.

Ashish Kumar, Joint Director, Impact Assessment Division, MoEF&CC, said the ministry had received 466 proposals till July 14 for environmental clearance to the projects.
On June 22, the ministry conducted the first Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) meeting and took up 10 violation cases, of which two were from Tamil Nadu.

The environment ministry on March 14, 2017, had brought out an impugned notification that provided a  one-time opportunity to builders to apply for post facto clearance within six months. However, the two-member vacation bench in its order on May 7 prohibited the ministry from taking any action pursuant to the impugned notification on the grounds that it violated  Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

When questioned how the ministry can receive proposals from violators when there was a blanket ban by virtue of the High Court order, Ajay Narayan Jha, Principal Secretary, MoEF&CC told Express that the ministry had not been communicated about the two-month-old order yet.

He said the notification was necessitated after the National Green Tribunal set aside the Office Memoranda which dealt with violation cases. The reason cited for quashing the Office Memoranda was that the proposed arrangements could not be made through Office Memorandum since it could not incorporate something which was not provided in EIA Notification, 2006. So this new arrangement to deal with cases of violation (opening a window for six months only) has been established through the Notification under The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The petitioner R Kothandaraman, president of the Puducherry Environment Protection, told Express that the ministry is intentionally expressing ignorance of the High Court order to help the violators.

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