Students of the National Law University, Delhi (NLU Delhi) and Jindal Law School have moved the Karnataka High Court challenging the decision of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to hold the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) public consultation process for the ‘Peripheral Ring Road’ Project through virtual means alone.
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in this regard notes that the Peripheral Ring Road (PRR) of Bangalore is a ring road that runs around most of the perimeter of the city, which is outside of the Outer Ring Road of Bangalore.
It is stated that the 65-kilometre-long road is being developed by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) in an attempt to decongest traffic in Bangalore City, to cater to intercity connectivity, to reduce pollution etc.
Initially, the BDA proposed to conduct the public hearing with respect to the Eight Lane Peripheral Ring Road project, on August 18, amid COVID-19. However, the same was cancelled owing to massive public outcry, says the plea.
Subsequently, on August 31, 2020, KSPCB issued a notification informing that the BDA proposed to continue the said environmental public hearing by conducting a webinar on September 23 via the Zoom Platform.
The petitioners further inform that they had sent a detailed and comprehensive representation to KSPCB highlighting major concerns over this notification, along with various reminders. However, they received no response.
The plea contends that the proposed project will cause major adverse impacts to multiple rural and urban communities as well as affect the biodiversity of the region.
"The Rapid EIA study conducted for this specific project lists sixty-three villages, settlements and habitations as areas which would be directly impacted by this project."
In this regard, the plea strongly argues that holding the public consultation process only virtually would restrict multiple vulnerable communities, from effectively raising their concerns about the project. This, in turn, would lead to an abject failure of the ‘public consultation’ process, the petitioners assert.
"The Impugned Notification (issued by KSPCB) by way of mandating a virtual public consultation hearing ignores the social matrix of the people this notification affects and violates the constitutional rights of the multiple minority communities affected by the project and the people of the State of Karnataka", reads the PIL.
Adding on, the plea states that keeping the public consultation process online goes against clause 3 (1) of the EIA Notification, 2006 and, hence, the KSPCB notification is bad in law.
The petition contends that,
"Laws cannot be understood outside of their (affected persons') social context, and hence predicting the experiences of the people who are to be affected by the law should be an integral part of law making ... This notification, by making access to the internet a requirement, secludes several minority communities from entering the law-making process and keeps them side-lined as the 'outsiders', pushing us further from achieving social equality in India."Petitioners
This apart, it was further argued that the August 31 notification is violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
Another concern raised in the plea concerns the timing of the KSPCB notification.
"A major cause of distress in the present notification is the timing of it. The Board’s (KSPCB) insistence on conducting the consultation process in the middle of a global pandemic is a sign of alarm and is also inconsistent with the general practices of other parallel authorities."Petitioners
On these grounds, the petitioners pray:
to quash the KSPCB order dated August 31 directing an online public hearing on September 23.
to direct the Authorities to conduct a physical public consultation hearing in addition to a virtual hearing which incorporates participation of all the diverse stakeholders involved in the present issue, at a time when it is safe and appropriate.
to enable infrastructural support for the affected persons to access the virtual public consultation before conducting the online consultation.
As an interim relief, the plea seeks to stay the KSPCB order dated August 31.
Genesis Law Partners will be representing the petitioners.