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Thursday 17 November 2011

Press Release: NAPM condemns clean chit to Lavasa by MoEF

National Office : A Wing First Floor, Haji Habib Building, Naigaon Cross Road  ,
 Dadar (E), Mumbai – 400 014. Phone - 9969363065;
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Clean Chit to Law-Breaker Lavasa is  a Blot on
India’s Democracy and Environmentalism

November 14th, 2011: Post-facto Green signal to Phase-I of Lavasa by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) given on the November 9th is a blot on the democratic process and a shockingly dangerous precedent in the history of environmental action in India. MoEF’s improper action has infact sent shock-waves to eco-activists within the country and also across the world. Although it is not the first time in the long history of Indian Environmental clearance regime that political highhandedness has been used to subvert rule of law and the ends of justice, this case is unique since the clearance has disregarded well established evidence based on facts collected by no other than the MoEF itself. It is surprising that the Ministry's decision has come in the wake of the case filed by the Maharashtra government against 15 persons including promoters of Lavasa Corporation for alleged violations of the Environment Protection Act (EPA), while the Maharashtra Chief Minister on the other hand has recommended that Lavasa be considered for environmental clearance, exposes the double standards of the state government.

It may not be over-exaggerated to state that some sections of the Ministry also are hand-in-glove with the Hindustan Construction Company (HCC). It is common knowledge that the HCC Director Mr. Ajit Gulabchand is a close aide of Mr. Sharad Pawar (NCP Supremo) and hence Lavasa, a subsidiary of HCC has always been the ‘dream project’ of Mr. Pawar and his allies. NAPM has been at the forefront of unearthing and challenging the plethora of illegalities indulged in by Lavasa since the beginning and has also published several documents, substantiating how the Corporation has been favoured by the Maharashtra Government, over and above the law. It was due to the initiative of the affected villagers, especially the tribal people and NAPM that the matter was brought to the light and the Maharashtra Government as well as the MoEF had to take note of the seriousness of the issue.

We are also extremely aghast since the recent ‘clearance’ comes after all after all long-drawn processes leading to undisputed conclusion by the Ministry itself that Lavasa has violated the Environment Protection Act 1986 and numerous other environmental norms. There is infact, no such provision under law and the EP Act wherein any project can obtain ‘Post- Facto’ clearance. It has also been proved beyond any iota of doubt that the company went ahead with the ‘development’ work at Lavasa in 2004 on the basis of environment clearance granted by the Maharashtra government, while in fact the state government has no legal authority to grant environment clearance to a project of such magnitude, with enormous implications on the fragile eco-system in the Western Ghats.

It is true that both the state government and HCC tried to disguise their malignant intentions of overriding Union laws under the cover of the Hill Station Development Act, 1996. One also wonders as how could have the state Government misled the company to evade the central clearance, whilst it the former is expected to be the guardian the law of the land. The present clearance is also starkly inconsistent with the Ministry’s stop work orders issued in November, 2010 which had accused the Corporation of suppressing crucial facts and violating environmental norms. It observed that out of the total land of 2,000 hectares, construction on 47.30 hectare was undertaken at a height of 1000 meters above the sea level, even though the permission was for less than 1000 meters.

Further, Lavasa has been also found guilty of taking up construction in the hills, hill slopes and river bed by violating norms of permissible construction, the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC) land meant for ‘public purpose’ was allegedly allotted to Lavasa, the company has misused global FSI permission, constructed private dam in the reservoir and diverted its waters for private use, indulged in felling of lakhs of tress and has brutalized the harmonious ecology of the Moshe Khore valley.

Numerous reports have also established that the Company has been guilty of illegal land transfers, fraud committed on farmers and adivasis, usurpation of lands grated to landless under the Land Ceiling Act. The Maharashtra Government has to take cognizance of all these and initiate prompt legal action against the Company. While on one hand, the Chief Minister himself has accepted that the Company has misused the ‘Special Planning Authority’ status wrongly conferred upon it by the state government and on the other, he has proceeded to recommend that the project be given green signal for the first phase of its work, all of which exposes the dichotomy of the political class, with a vested interest in the Project and its proponents.

In this context, we fully condemn and refute the legally untenable decision of MoEF in the case of Lavasa. It is indeed an act of shame that the MoEF must buckle under pressure from corporate big wigs like Lavasa, in a country which has witnessed glorious green politics and environmental activism through the Silent valley, Chipko, Narmada Bachao and other movements, widening the horizon of ecological justice and raising the concerns of project affected families and communities as well.  All this establishes the clear lack of political will in conserving nature and the nature-based communities. It is unfortunate and unacceptable that one private Company can pressurize both the Centre and the State to overlook all its illegalities and give ‘clearance’ to commit further illegalities. Given the graving of the entire issue, we demand that no less than a CBI inquiry at this stage would be necessary to bring all the facts to light and the culprits to book.

It is also quite notable that the Hon’ble High Court on a series of earlier hearings and especially on the last date of hearing on 22nd October, 2011 had stated that it would consider the various public interest petitions filed by NAPM and other concerned citizens and groups before delivering its final judgement. We hope the Hon’ble Court would take note of the improper and illegal manner in which the State has dealt with the issue and issue appropriate orders.

As a central sanctioning and monitoring authority, accountable to the Parliament and beyond it, the People, the Ministry, we expect, will reconsider its decision, not on politics, but on merits and revoke the clearance for the Phase-I. The Ministry also has its own credibility at stake, if it chooses to ignore crucial and incriminating evidence against the Lavasa Corporation. NAPM, along with the affected people and all its comrades having stake in the eco-well-being of the Mose river valley will rally for the cause, both on the ground and in the Court. Lavasa, an offender has to pay the costs of its illegalities, it deserves no pardon and no patronage.

Lavasa is also another crucial litmus test for democratic fabric and future of the country. At a time when, ‘corruption’ has become the catch word of the Indian Middle Class and Political Establishment, we shall wait and see if they will stand up to speak out against the criminal and corrupt acts of the Lavasa Corporation.

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