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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014

Green tribunal notice to govt, temple trust for illegal expansion of Akshardham complex

Darpan Singh, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, November 01, 2013
First Published: 17:12 IST(1/11/2013) | Last Updated: 17:16 IST(1/11/2013)
The National Green Tribunal on Friday issued notices to central and Delhi government departments on an appeal seeking cancellation of a post-facto environment clearance granted for expansion of the Akshardham Temple complex on the banks of Yamuna river.

 
The NGT issued the notices while hearing an appeal filed primarily on the basis of two HT reports (Govt aids Akshardham temple’s illegal sprawl and Govt knew of illegal expansion in Akshardham complex: activists. 
 
The appeal filed by Manoj Misra of environment grouping Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan has sought directions to authorities to demolish the illegal expansion and disclose all such clearances granted after completion of construction.
 
The appeal also seeks action against the state environment impact assessment authority (SEIAA) for granting the clearance and the temple trust for carrying out construction without prior environment clearance.
 
“The post-facto environmental clearance is in contravention of the provisions of the environment impact assessment notification 2006, issued under the environment (protection) Act, 1986,” the appeal says.
 
“The clearance is illegal and has no legal sanctity because the SEIAA has imposed several conditions to be complied during construction while the construction was the already complete.”
 
Misra said, “This way, any project proponent would complete his project by causing irreversible damage to the environment and then seek post-facto environmental clearance making the provisions of EIA Notification infructuous. The grant of post-facto clearance defeats the very purpose of environment protection law and the mandate of obtaining environmental clearance as per the provisions of EIA notification.”
 
The notices have been issued against Union ministry of environment and forests, state environment impact assessment authority, Delhi development authority, Delhi pollution control committee, Yamuna river development authority and BAPS Swami Narayan Sanstha.
 
HT had reported that the temple trust, Bochasanwasi Sri Akshar Purshottam Sanstha, in 2010 began expanding the complex, adding a built-up area, as big as half of the old structure, without seeking the mandatory environment clearance.
 
The SEIAA on July 30, 2013 issued the clearance to for expansion, subject to safe construction practices, care for environment and pollution control, almost two years after the construction started.
 
JK Gadhiya of the trust had told HT: “We didn’t know it [the expansion] needs environment clearance. We approached the SEIIA as soon as we knew the clearance was mandatory.”
 
The trust built the old complex at a cost of Rs. 100 crore after it got 12 hectares in 2000 from the Delhi Development Authority. The construction of a built-up area of 55,410 sqm got over in 2005. 
 
The old complex did not require environment clearance because it came up before the ministry of environment and forests made EC mandatory for all projects in a built-up area of 20,000 sqm and more only in 2006.
 
In late 2010, the trust started building an additional built-up area of 25497.38 sqm but submitted to the SEIIA an application for environment clearance only on December 19, 2012, when most of the expansion was complete.
 
“Yamuna is not only a sacred river of India but an aquatic lifeline for millions of people and others dependent on it for sustenance. Delhi requires every inch of its riverbed protected for water security. It is critically threatened by unrelenting encroachment of its floodplains and by increasing pollution load. Such illegal expansion will further increase the pressure on the river,” said Misra.
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