4th March, 2015, New Delhi | by Debadityo Sinha
It seems that protection of environment and forests is no more the agenda of MOEFCC. The same path is being followed by the State government of U.P. which in spite of saving its natural resources, is deeply responsible for violation of Article 48 A of the Indian constitution which casts a duty on the State Government to protect and improve environment and safeguard forests and wildlife of the country.
Kanhar dam, an abandoned irrigation project of State of U.P which was in abeyance since 1989 was suddenly
inaugurated on 5th December, 2014 for reasons best known to the State Government.
Originally conceived in the year 1976 for providing irrigational facilities to Dudhi and Robertsganj tehsils of Sonebhadra, the project only undertook minor construction activities (earthen work)for some period of time and finally was left abandoned for almost 30 years due to non-availability of funds (as per the official records).
The project will cause destruction to around 2,500 hectares of dense forests and as per an estimate would involve felling of minimum nine lakhs trees.The dam would also have an immense negative impact on river Son which is in ‘Critically Modified Stage F’ with just 5% of Mean Annual Runoff (as per CIFRI 2014). Apparently the project submergence area also consists of tribal population who have never been informed about the environmental and social impacts of the projects nor have been granted any opportunity to participate in the decision making process. The Gram Sabhas of all the affected villages have been strongly protesting against the project and have also filed a petition in the High Court of Allahabad with respect to discrepancies in the land acquisition process.
Based on the aforesaid pleadings, a petition was filed before the National Green Tribunal on 24th December claiming that the abandoned project cannot be revived based on clearances obtained in the 1980’s since the same requires to undergo a fresh assessment taking into account the significant environmental changes occurred in past 30 years since the project was originally conceived by CWC. The petition seeks a specific relief that the construction can only be carried out after fresh clearances are obtained under the existing laws. Hearing the petition, an interim stay was granted by a bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar refraining State of UP from carrying out any construction activity if they do not have valid environment clearance and forest clearance as stipulated under law. The State of U.P. ignored the order interpreting that the ‘Environment Clearance’ and ‘Forests Clearance’ obtained by them in 1980’s is valid in law. However, it has constantly failed to respond to the main issues pleaded by the applicants which focuses on the environmental impacts of the project which has never been scrutinised by the expert committees of the Ministry. They have further clarified that the project does not attract a fresh EC as the project is ongoing. While the question as to whether this project requires fresh clearances or not is yet to be decided by the NGT, the State of UP has repeatedly failed to produce the valid approval of the Central Government for diversion of forests lands.
The current status of the Forests Clearance as appears on the MoEF website was produced before NGT in today’s hearing wherein several proposals related to the Kanhar Irrigation Project are shown as ‘Pending’ and ‘Closed’. Pertinently, the Ministry has sought more time to locate the files and file an additional affidavit in the matter.
Here are the excerpts from the order from last few hearings:
|Date of Hearing||Excerpt from the Court Order||Response|
|24th December, 2014||
Let the Replies be filed within two weeks from today with advance copies to the Learned counsel appearing for the Applicant who may file Rejoinder(s) thereto, if any, within two weeks thereafter.
In the meanwhile, Respondents are restrained from carrying on any construction activity at the site in question and fell any trees if they do not have Environmental Clearance and Forest Clearance in accordance with law.
Construction did not stop.
A contempt application was filed later by the applicants.
|13th January, 2015||
Learned counsel appearing for the non-Applicants accept Notice and pray for time to file the Reply. Let the Reply be filed within ten days from today with advance copy to the Learned counsel appearing for the Applicant
who may file Rejoinder thereto, if any, within three days thereafter.
|No Reply filed by State of U.P. and MOEFCC|
|29th January, 2015||
The Learned Counsel appearing for the respondents submit that he would file reply to M.A. No. 14/2015 during the course of the day. Liberty is granted.
Copy be furnished to the applicant, who may file Rejoinder within one week from today.
State of U.P. filed reply on 3rd February, 2015 just a day before the next hearing
No reply from MOEFCC
|4th February, 2015||
The Ministry of Environment & Forests is granted last opportunity to file reply within one week from today. Rejoinder to the replies of other parties already filed. Rejoinder to the reply of MoEF, if any, should be filed within
one week thereafter
|No reply from MOEFCC|
|19th February, 2015||
Despite last opportunity the MoEF has not filed the Reply. Learned counsel appearing for MoEF submits that because of lack of communication the Reply could not filed though it is practically ready. We find no justification therefore. However in the interest of justice and by way of last opportunity we permit the Reply to be filed within one week from today. In event of default the MoEF shall pay Rs. 25,000/- as cost.
List this matter for final arguments on 04th March, 2015.
MOEFCC filed their reply on 3rd March, 2015, a day before the hearing but seeks more time more time stating:
‘Furthermore in so far as the issue of Forest Clearance is concerned it is humbly submitted that the records pertaining to the same are not traceable in the Ministry at the moment. Since the records date back to more than 3 decades ago, the answering Respondent Ministry seeks the leave of this Hon’ble Tribunal to further time to locate the files and thereafter file an additional affidavit to bring on record such relevant documents.
|4th March, 2015||
List this matter on 12th March, 2015 when the Project Proponent shall produce the Forest Clearance before the Tribunal.
We make it clear that in the event of default we would pass orders in accordance with law.
The Applicants shows the Forest Clearance status of the project components from the MOEFCC website which shows the status as ‘Pending’ and ‘Closed’.
NGT took note of it and asked State of U.P. to show the Forest Clearance granted by the Ministry. Since they failed to do so, NGT granted them a week’s time to produce the valid forest approval.
A compilation of orders and relevant documents are also available on www.vindhyabachao.org/kanhar
The orders can be also seen from website of National Green Tribunal > Daily Orders > Principal Bench > Chairperson Bench and then Search by Party Name as “Om Dutt Singh”