In partial relief to the Uttar Pradesh government regarding the controversial Kanhar dam, the National Green Tribunal on Thursday gave a green signal to the construction already underway but stayed any new construction on the site.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said: "The project proponent shall complete the construction or activity that is underway and would not commence any new activity or construction without specific recommendations of the committee (set up by the NGT)."
The bench dismissed the applicant's argument that the construction of dam be halted until the the state government sought fresh environmental clearance (EC) as opposed to the nearly 35-year-old consent order of the forest department.
"It would neither serve the interest of the environment or ecology nor would it serve public purpose. Huge amounts have been spent on this project," it noted, adding that any stay on the present construction would further enhance its cost that starkly rose to Rs.2,252.29 crore in 2013 from the original estimation of Rs. 27.75 crore.
Following a petition in the case last year, the green panel Dec 24 stayed the construction of the dam in Uttar Pradesh's Maoist-affected Sonebhadra district as impermissible for lack of a valid EC. It was contended that the previous EC and forest clearance to the Kanhar dam project, first envisaged in 1976, was not valid after over 30 years.
The NGT had set up a committee of experts and officials from the environment ministry as well as the Central Pollution Control Board among others to ensure if the conditions imposed in the consent order of April 14, 1980 as well as February 27, 1982 clearance of the forest department have been "strictly complied" with.
It observed that the EC granted to the project in 1980 was a "mere formality" that failed to safeguard the area's environment and ecology, and adding that "there is need to reassess the environmental impact in the light of the development that has taken place in the area around the project, both within the district and in the entire Singrauli region".
Applicants' advocate Parul Gupta, however, described the judgement as "tilted" in favour of the state government. She said although it upheld the applicants' contention that the old clearances of 1980s served "no good" in view of the present environmental conditions, but it did not stay the construction activity.
"Although certain directions for formation of an expert committee have provided a partial relief, yet the decision gets tilted in favor of the state due to the fait accompli created by them," she noted.
Petitioner Debadityo Sinha from Vindhya Bachao Abhiyan said the judgement had potential to provide limited relief.
"Although the judgment allowed the construction which is underway, it has stated that approval of the Expert Committee would be required for any new construction activity. If these directions are implemented in letter and spirit, it would provide relief to a certain extent," he said.