13 May 2023 8:00 AM GMT
Setting aside the Environmental Clearance granted to Avulapalli Reservoir in Andhra Pradesh by State-Level Environmental Impact Assessment, the National Green Tribunal (Southern Zone) has imposed a Rs.100 Crore penalty on the State's Water Resource Department. The bench of Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana, Dr. Satyagopal Korlapati said, “It is extremely disturbing to note that a...
Setting aside the Environmental Clearance granted to Avulapalli Reservoir in Andhra Pradesh by State-Level Environmental Impact Assessment, the National Green Tribunal (Southern Zone) has imposed a Rs.100 Crore penalty on the State's Water Resource Department.
The bench of Justice Pushpa Sathyanarayana, Dr. Satyagopal Korlapati said,
“It is extremely disturbing to note that a Government Department, in gross violation of the environmental laws, can go to the extent to implement an Irrigation Project by resorting to falsehood, misrepresentation and cheating the SEIAA.”
The Tribunal was hearing the appeal against the Environmental Clearance (EC) issued in September, 2022 by State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority - Andhra Pradesh (SEIAA -AP) in favour of the State of Andhra Pradesh for construction of the Avulapalli Balancing Reservoir.
The appellant contended that the impugned EC was issued without application of mind on misrepresentation of facts.
The main objection of the appellant was that the EC is obtained only for Avulapalli Balancing Reservoir with the capacity of 2.5 TMC whereas G.O. Rt. 444 dated 26.08.2020 and G.O Rt. 461 dated 02.09.2020 proposed three reservoirs linking Galeru Nagar Sujala Sravanthi and Handri Neeva Sujala Sravathi.
The capacity of the reservoir is shown as 2.5 TMC in the project but it was stated before the High Court of Andhra Pradesh that it will increase the capacity from 2.5 TMC to 3.5 TMC, the appellant submitted.
It was also argued that the project proponent (PP) has taken the land belonging to the Forest Department without the impact assessment being done on the forest and eco-sensitive zone.
The Tribunal found that, “perusal of the said documents submitted by SEIAA – AP reveal that the G.O.461 dated 02.09.2020 by which the project was sanctioned is only an abstract of the said G.O. and contains only details of the financial sanction without any reference to the capacity of the project, proposed new ayacut area, apportionment of the water for drinking water needs, etc.”
The Tribunal opined that project proponent has deliberately “furnished false information” before the SEIAA – AP and has claimed in the counter affidavit that the project is only Phase – I and application will be made for EC for Phase – II separately, though the administrative sanction was obtained for 3.5 TMC (Phase I - 2.5 TMC + Phase II – 1 TMC).
In light of the above, the Tribunal set aside the EC granted by SEIAA-AP in favour of Avulapalli Balancing Reservoir.
The NGT said,“a penalty of Rs.100 Crores penalty imposed imposed on the Project Proponent /Water Resources (Project – III) Department, State of Andhra Pradesh payable to the Krishna River Management Board within a period of 03 (Three) months for their attempt to secure EC under B2 – Category to avoid a detailed environmental impact study, public hearing, etc. The said amount may be utilized for pollution abatement in Krishna River.”
The Tribunal has also constituted a Committee comprising (i) the senior most Scientist from Integrated Regional Office - MoEF&CC Vijayawada, (ii) a Senior Engineer from CPCB and (iii) a Senior Engineer of Krishna River Management Board to assess the environmental damage caused and arrive at the environmental compensation to be levied on the Project Proponent.
The NGT also recommended that the Secretary – MoEF&CC to order an enquiry (i) to ascertain the officers of the SEIAA – AP responsible for attempting to create the evidence to show that the prior EC proposal was for Phase – I of the project, (ii) to ascertain the officers representing the project proponent, responsible for filing the fabricated documents before this Tribunal through the SEIAA – AP.
While disposing the appeal the Tribunal also said that,“The MoEF&CC may examine the possibility of bringing the SEIAAs under the direct administrative control of MoEF&CC even if the officers are drawn from the pool of State Government/All India Service officials of the concerned State”.
Case Title: Gutha Gunasekhar & ors. v. Union of India & ors.
Counsel for Applicants: Sravan Kumar
Counsel For Respondent: Meyappan for ME. Sarashwathy for R1.
Sathish Parasan, Senior Advocate for R2
Madhuri Donti Ready for R3, R4 and R7.
Click Here To Read/Download Order