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The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has cleared the decks for the redevelopment of the Integrated Exhibition-cum-Convention Centre at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi by the India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO).
By an order issued yesterday, the NGT dismissed a challenge made to the Environmental Clearance (EC) given for the project by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF) in July 2017.
The appellant had contended that the EC was granted despite there being several irregularities on record, including the following:
– Preparatory works for the redevelopment project commenced before Consent to Establish was obtained as required under the Water and Air Pollution Acts. This was also substantiated by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), which informed the NGT via affidavit that an application for the same was only submitted by ITPO in October 2017, although the work commenced in March.
– The EC was issued in complete violation of the EIA Notification, 2006. The appraisal procedure followed in respect of the project did not conform to the provisions of the 2006 Notification. In this regard, the following, among other, objections were raised:
› Relevant impact assessments were not properly carried out, including those with respect to cutting of trees, traffic congestion, ambient air quality standards and increase in air pollution levels.
› Baseline studies were conducted before the Terms of Reference (ToR) was communicated to ITPO
› There was no clarity or information was lacking on water usage, groundwater extraction, waste management etc. in the Environmental Impact Assessment report
Therefore, it was the appellant’s case that the project was approved by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MOEF only on the basis of the ITPO’s statements, without applying its independent mind.
However, the Bench headed by Chairman AK Goel and comprising members Jawad Rahim, SP Wangdi and Nagin Nanda found that there was sufficient record to show that appropriate impact assessment studies had been carried out and that the 2006 Notification had been duly complied with.
“The facts and circumstances detailed above would show that all the concerns expressed by the applicant in the appeal appear to have been adequately taken care of. A close examination of the EIA Report reveals that all relevant factors relating to environment have been duly considered. While granting the impugned Environmental Clearance, the recommendations of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) which was based on the EIA Report, appear to have been taken due care of and specific conditions imposed for ensuring compliance of the recommendations of the EAC.“
Incidentally, the Bench also observed,
“It may also be pertinent to note that the present project is not a completely new one being undertaken on a new unbroken site but is apparently one to replace pre- existing infrastructure on the same site with almost the same extent and magnitude.“
On the question of whether baseline studies were conducted in line with the mandatory ToR, the NGT took note of the MOEF’s submission that a second EIA report was submitted by ITPO after conducting further baseline studies as required by the ToR.
The remaining concern was the commencement of preparatory works before the Consent to Establish was obtained under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974. This infraction was undisputed by the concerned authorities as well.
However, the Bench held that it was up to the pollution control authorities to deal with such statutory violations. It opined that the NGT’s role would only arise once the orders passed by such regulatory authorities are sought to be challenged.
“In our considered opinion, violations of the provisions of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, are governed by the provisions contained in the statutes that stipulates the consequences therefor and it is for the regulatory authority to take appropriate actions. Appeal lies against the orders before the Appellate Authority and this Tribunal against the orders passed by the regulatory authority.“
In view of these observations, the NGT dismissed the appellant’s challenge, holding that,
“The examination and scrutiny of the process does not reveal any substantial deficiency so as to vitiate the Environmental Clearance… the principle concerns raised by the Appellant in respect of Environmental Clearance do not appear to be justified. “
However, before parting with the order, the Bench emphasised on the imperative of the MOEF and other regulatory authorities to ensure that each condition of the EC is meticulously complied with. To this end, it has directed the authorities to conduct periodic inspections of the project site.
“Physical inspections of the project site shall be held periodically to ensure that the conditions of the Environmental Clearance are complied with both during the construction and the operational phases.“
The appellant in the case, Verhaen Khanna was represented by Advocates Ritwick Dutta and Meera Gopal.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Atmaram NS Nadkarni appeared for the MOEFF, along with Advocates Salvador Santosh Rebello, Sneha Tendulkar, Raghav Sharma, Mayor Jaisingh, KK Singh and Divya Prakash.
ITPO was represented by Senior Advocate Sanjay Jain and ASG Tushar Gupta, along with Advocates Saket Sikri, Sneha Suman, Rhea Verma and Ajay Pal. Advocates Sandeep Mishra and Dinesh Jindal appeared for the DPCC.
Read the Order: