The Centre has admitted that it delayed action against Lavasa hill city in Pune district.
Additional solicitor general Darius Khambatta said this in the Bombay High Court on Friday but added that this was not a ground for not taking action at all.
Lavasa had moved the high court against a show-cause notice issued by the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) issued on November 28.
The MoEF had also ordered work on the 2,000-hectare first phase to stop saying Lavasa had started the project without environment clearances. The high court did not vacate the stay on construction at Lavasa, which means work on the project cannot resume.
In its response to the notice, Lavasa had asked why authorities had remained silent and continued to grant clearances to the project for six years before taking action.
Counsel for Lavasa, Shekhar Naphade, said the corporation had obtained 76 sanctions and permissions of which at least three were from the MoEF.
“In 2005, when the state government forwarded a clarification in reply to an MoEF query, they were aware of our project,” said Naphade.
Khambatta reiterated what the MoEF had said in its notice that work going on at the hill city was “completely illegal”. Khambatta told the court that Lavasa Corporation had not bothered to obtain requisite environmental clearances for the project.
“The planning department [of the state] had intimated Lavasa Corporation about the necessity to obtain environmental clearance before beginning work at the hill station. Despite that, the company continued brazen construction,” Khambatta said.
He said obtaining environmental clearances involves calling for objections and suggestions, undertaking environmental impact assessment and conducting a public hearing before the project is allowed.
Naphade argued that Lavasa was a tourism project and did not require environment clearance. Khambatta countered Lavasa’s contention that the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification of 1991 and subsequent amendments were not applicable to its project.
“No project has been exempt from the notification and the subsequent amendments and, therefore, the amendment of 2004 requiring prior environmental clearance for certain projects was applicable to Lavasa’s hill station project proposed to be spread over 12,500 hectares,” Khambatta told the court.
He also assured the court that the hearing on the MoEF’s show-cause notice would be completed by December 31 if Lavasa cooperates.
Naphade called action against Lavasa “abuse of power”. “Suddenly what happened on November 25 that prompted them to issue the show-cause notice?”