Holding that orders of High Court would prevail over Tribunal's in case of contradicting orders passed by High Court and NGT, the Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed the proceedings before National Green Tribunal which halted the construction works at Rushikonda Hills in Visakhapattanam.
"The contradicting orders of High Court and the National Green Tribunal would leave to anamolous situation, as authorities wouldn't know which order to follow. In such a case, orders of the Constitutional Court would prevail over orders of the Tribunal", the Supreme Court stated.
The bench observed that it wasn't appropriate on part of NGT to continue proceedings before it specifically when it was pointed out that the High court was seized of the matter and has passed orders.
A bench comprising Justice BR Gavai and Justice Hima Kohli was considering State of Andhra Pradesh's plea against orders of the National Green Tribunal which halted the construction works at Rushikonda Hills in Visakhapattanam as part of a tourism project.
Saying that continuation of proceedings before NGT when the High Court is seized of the same issue will not be in interest of justice, the bench has directed the parties to move the High Court for appropriate orders, and granted liberty to the respondent MP K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju to file an impleadmnet application before the High Court.
The bench observed that even though the High Court has permitted construction, taking into consideration serious allegations raised by respondent, it'll be appropriate that these are put before the High court and the High Court takes a decision, so as to strike a balance between development and environment issues.
The Bench further said that though development is necessary for economic development of nation, it is equally necessary to safeguard the environment to preserve pollution free environment for future generations.
Construction Permitted Only On Flat Areas & area Where Construction Already Existed Till HC Considers The Issue:
Further, until the High Court takes a fresh call on the issue of construction, the bench found it appropriate to direct that the construction will be permitted only on the flat areas, the area where construction existed earlier and which has already been demolished.
The court has clarified that until the High Court considers the issue, no construction will be carried out on area excavated from the hills.
The bench further clarified that it hasn't expressed opinion on merits of the matter and parties would be at liberty to raise all issued available to them which would be considered in accordance with law.
The civil appeal filed by the State of Andhra Pradesh through Advocate Mahfooz A Nazki has challenged the following two orders passed by the NGT:
- Order dated 06.05.2022 passed directing that no construction work be conducted at the site ofthe Rushikonda Hill Tourism Project, i.e., a Project involving a tourism resort and ancillary amenities on Rushikonda Hill, spearheaded by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism , Development Corporation till the next date of hearing i.e., 11.07.2022.
- The order dated 20.05.2022 passed refusing to vacate the stay on construction granted by them through the Impugned Order dated 06.05.2022.
The NGT passed the orders after MP K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju had written a letter to the Tribunal claiming that the construction work in the Project is in violation ofMaster Plan notified by the Urban Development Department under the Andhra Pradesh Urban Development Areas (Development) Act, 1975. This letter was subsequently converted into an Original Application in which the impugned order was passed.
The NGT had then constituted an expert committee with members of the Central Pollution Control Board, the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board, State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority of Andhra Pradesh and District Magistrate, Visakhapatnam to enquire into the allegations levelled against the Project.
The State has argued that the NGT granted a stay on construction of the resort on Rushikonda Hill, despite there being a positive report dated 29.03.2022 by the Expert Committee noting that the construction was undertaken only after obtaining the necessary environmental permissions and clearances.
It has been pointed out that the proceedings before the NGT were completely ex-parte and notice was issued to the State of Andhra Pradesh and APTDC only on 06.05.2022, when the first Impugned Order was passed.
According to the State, the NGT failed to consider that a No Objection letter from the Andhra Pradesh Coastal Zone Management Authority regarding APTDC's application for a CRZ clearance and CRZ Clearance dated 19.05.2021 from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change were already in place.
According to the State, a substantial part of construction in the Project is targeted to be completed by July 2022 before the Monsoon season sets in. As a result of the stay ordered by the NGT, APTDC will not be able to utilise the best season for construction activity and will thus suffer losses.
The State of Andhra Pradesh has submitted that it is faced with a situation where the Project is completely stalled, causing irreparable harm to the interests of the State due to the egregious delay being resulting from the NGT's actions.
According to the State, both the Impugned Orders will cause immeasurable harm to the monetary interests of the State, because such a delay increases Project costs immensely and once completed, the project is expected to provide a much-needed boost to tourism in the region which will aid the ailing finances of the State.
Case Title: State of Andhra Pradesh vs Raghu Ramakrishna Raju (M.P)