The environment ministry has violated its own regulation to grant approval to a mega thermal power project in highly polluted Korba district of Chattisgarh, resulting in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) canceling the approval.
The tribunal also hinted at a possible scam in the ministry in granting clearances by stating that somehow the project proponent - Dheeru Powergen Private Limited --- knew in advance of the ministry's moratorium on highly polluted industrial areas including in Korba.
The ministry on 13, January 2010 had imposed a moratorium in different industrial areas for high pollution levels including Korba, which was ranked fifth most polluted place in India. The moratorium on Korba still continues.
Five days after the imposed was moratorium, the ministry issued environment approval to the project over-looking the observations related to high air and water pollution in Korba.
"This is a material internal contradiction between the two actions, that is to impose the moratorium on one hand and to breach the same on the other hand," a five member bench of the tribunal said, in its order.
The bench was amazed to find that the ministry considered radial distance of 15 kms from epicenter of Korba town for the purpose of environment impact. "There is no particular yardstick shown as to how only 15 km area may be identified as critically polluted zone," the bench said.
This 15 km was also the zone for moratorium on new industries around Korba. The ministry's expert appraisal committee (EAC) which examined the project before the moratorium was imposed had some inclination about it. The EAC clearly stated, in its project approval order, that the plant was beyond 15 kms and would not impact pollution levels of Korba.
The tribunal termed the EAC contention wrong and expressed its surprise over similarity between EAC's observation and the moratorium. The ministry had failed to detect this uncanny similarity and it became one of the reasons for the tribunal to scrap the approval given.
The bench also observed that the ministry used vague term such as "minimal damage" in its approval order which was granted before the company could submit its relief and rehabilitation plan and corporate social responsibility plan. Relief and rehabilitation cann be prescribed as post approval condition, the tribunal said.
The bench also said that the ministry overlooked certain material issues which were highlighted by locals during the public hearing for the project coming about 15 kms away from the Korba town.