An eight-member committee of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) began its crucial site inspection of Lavasa hill city, planned across 25,000 acres in Pune district, on Wednesday.
The committee, led by central expert appraisal committee (EAC) chairman, Naresh Dayal, includes three members of the Centre’s EAC and four members of the state EAC, which is led by former bureaucrat PA Hakeem.
“The team will look into all the clearances, check the height of the project, the infrastructure created, and talk to stakeholders, including protesting villagers, to ascertain the truth. Their recommendations will dictate the final MoEF order,” a senior MoEF official said requesting anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The Hindustan Times had first reported in its August 20 edition that the project had come under the scanner of the MoEF for allegedly violating environmental norms.
The committee has a mandate from the Bombay high court to check the allegations of environmental violations by the hill city and will carry out site inspections for two more days.
The high court has instructed the MoEF to consider the recommendations of this panel when it announces its decision on Lavasa on January 10. The team visited various spots, including the main entry gate, to ascertain the height of the project, which is the main bone of contention.
It also held discussions with stakeholders, including representatives of Lavasa. The environment ministry had said that Lavasa should have got a go-ahead from the Centre because certain areas in Lavasa hill city were located at a height of more than 1,000 metres.
Lavasa Corporation had denied this. Medha Patkar, leader of the National Alliance for People’s Movement, also came to Lavasa on Wednesday and presented her say to the committee.
Marathi writer and activist, Laxman Mane, who supports the project, and members of his organisation protested against Patkar by waving black flags. The committee heard both sides but did not speak to the media.
At least 20 officials from various departments including revenue, forest and public works, assisted the committee because multiple departments are involved in issuing no-objection-certificates to Lavasa. The high court has asked the MoEF to place the copy of its decision before it on January 14. It has also granted Lavasa the liberty to challenge the MoEF’s decision. The next court hearing is on January 27.