In a major decision, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has observed that any person, even if not affected by the project, can file a petition against the project on the ground that it was a duty of every citizen to protect the environment.
A bench of justice C V Ramulu and Devendra Kumar Aggrawal overruled the government's objection that a person who is not directly affected by a project cannot file a petition seeking cancellation of the environment or forest clearance.
Environment clearance is required for every project where no forestland is to be diverted. In case forestland is to be diverted, both environment and forest clearance is required.
"The person living in the area or vicinity of the proposed project may not know about many intrinsic scientific details and effects of the ultimate project and any disaster, it may cause…Therefore, it may not be proper for this Tribunal to reject an application on the ground that the applicant/appellant as the case may be, is not the resident of the area or not directly injured or aggrieved," the bench said, while withholding the right of people to protest against a project on environmental grounds.
Three residents of Uttarakhand, Vimal Bhai, Bharat Jhunjunwala and Briharshraj Singh Tariyal had filed a petition seeking rejection of environment and forest clearance to 65 meter high hydro project on river Alakananda river. But, the government objected the petition saying they were not living in vicinity of the project.
The bench observed that the nature cannot be allowed to done away with one stroke of pen, in the guise of development, without properly examining the environmental and ecological impact of the project proposed.
Quoting the Constitution, the bench said the protection and improving the natural environment is the fundamental duty of a citizen. "The statutory provisions are subservient to the Constitutional mandates," the bench said.
However, the bench refused to reject the clearance given to hydro project on Alakananda river but asked the environment ministry to prepare a cumulative impact assessment of the river based on studies done by Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee and Wildlife Institute of India in a timeframe.
The NGT also asked the ministry to stipulate a procedure for cost benefit analysis for diversion of a forestland land for each proposal.