The central Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has told an apex court panel, probing suspected illegalities at Noida’s Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park, the project has not violated any environment laws.
This comes as a volte-face for the ministry.
The MoEF’s clean chit — communicated to the panel on August 22 by an assistant inspector-general of forests —has trashed the findings of its Lucknow-based regional office’s inspection team that had on July 10 established the project’s suspected illegalities under the central Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification of 2006 and the central Forest Conservation Act (FCA) of 1980.
The MoEF’s August new stand also negated the report — of which HT has a copy — of the Dehradun-based Forest Survey of India (FSI) that had, through satellite imagery, established before the same panel that till 2007 around 21.77 hectare out of the project’s total 33.43 hectares comprised “moderately dense forest to open forest” thereby attracting the FCA.
The ministry’s written submission, of which HT has a copy, in fact makes no mention of either its inspection team’s findings or the FSI report.
The ministry’s Minister of State “Jairam Ramesh would return to Delhi tonight from abroad and would review the response himself in a day or two” said a ministry official when HT contacted him.
According to the inspection team’s findings, the project does not have EIA certificates though it is around 3.14-lakh metres above the limit of 20,000 sq m for new projects exempted from such certificates, as per the EIA notification. It is also located within 10 km of a protected facility like the Okhla Bird Park and Wild Life Sanctuary.
The project had also allegedly violated the FCA by not taking permission before cutting down 6,003 trees.
Instead, the MoEF response repeated the contentions of the Uttar Pradesh government, that is executing the Rs 685 crore (65 million) project under Chief Minister Mayawati, to give it a clean chit.
“The project’s construction work does not seem to violate any Act/Law… since it did not attract provisions of the EIA notification or the Forest (Conservation) Act,” said the response.
The ministry’s response, identical to the state government’s, said the project’s construction covered just “9,542 square metres that fell much below the EIA notification’s limit of 20,000 square metres” its site had not been a “deemed forest” and that it was instead an “urban tree park”.
The MoEF response does, however, chide the state government for not declaring the project site an “eco-sensitive zone” and suggests it should become an extension of the bird park.