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A Division Bench of the Telangana & Andhra Pradesh High Court today heard an appeal by the Telangana government against a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order directing the suspension of work on the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project.
The Principal Bench of the NGT headed by Justice Jawad Rahim had held that the Rs. 80,000 crore project lacked the requisite environmental clearances, given the fact that more than 3000 hectares of forest land was involved.
The Telangana government, represented by Advocate General D Prakash Reddy, today told the High Court Bench of Acting Chief Justice Ramesh Ranganathan and Justice Uma Devi that the original appeal filed before the NGT was barred by both limitation and jurisdiction.
Citing Section 14 of the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, Reddy told the Court that disputes under the section could not be entertained by the Tribunal unless an application was made within a period of six months from the date on which the cause of action first arose. Reddy also pointed out that the petitioner had said there was a recurring cause of action, but had mentioned no specific date.
It was also contended that the Principal Bench lacked the territorial jurisdiction to hear the case, and that the Chennai bench should have heard the matter. It was also stated that the Pune bench also may have jurisdiction, as some villages in Maharashtra could be affected by the project.
Reddy also submitted that the project – with a total capacity of 180 Thousand Million Cubic Feet (TMC) – served twin purposes, namely, to provide water for drinking and industrial purposes, as well as for irrigation.
He added that the government did not need the clearances in question for the drinking water element, and that it had sought permission to continue with work pertaining to this purpose only. He said that should the government be unable to obtain clearances for the irrigation part of the project, the water would be used entirely for drinking and industrial purposes.
Senior Counsel Vedula Venkataramana, who appeared for the petitioner, urged the Court not to exercise its discretionary power under Article 226 of the Constitution, as the appellants had an alternative remedy under Section 22 of the NGT Act, whereby they could approach the Supreme Court.
He added that the appellant’s submissions pertained to substantial questions of law, which fell within the ambit of Section 22.
He also added that the question of when the cause of action first arose was immaterial, as there were various activities that were being taken up by the state, and that it was important to examine whether there was a continuing cause of action.
The matter is likely to be heard further tomorrow, barring which it will be taken up on Monday, October, 30.