Hundreds of construction projects in the city and Navi Mumbai may be declared illegal, as the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has quashed two orders of the environment ministry that allowed projects initiated without the mandatory green nod to be cleared.
The tribunal, in its recent order, declared the two orders, known as office memorandum, issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in December 2012 and June 2013 “ultra vires” to its notification issued in 2006 and the Environment Protection Act of 1986.
As earlier there was no provision to regularise projects that don’t have a green nod, the Union ministry had issued an order to demolish the controversial Adarsh society. However, after coming across several such cases, the ministry issued the two orders, based on which the buildings could get a clearance.
Similar to the Adarsh case, around 350 buildings in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai have been built without a coastal nod. In the past two years, hundreds of projects, including a new five-star hotel, mega residential projects, commercial complexes and 10 irrigation projects, have been regularised by the state expert appraisal committees on the basis of the MoEF orders.
Taking note of the impact of the tribunal’s judgment, the state government has now written to the MoEF, seeking directions. “The NGT order applies to the entire country, so we are waiting for the MoEF to take a decision on it. If the MoEF orders are quashed, hundreds of projects in Mumbai will have to be declared illegal. In almost every meeting, the state appraisal expert committees come across at least five such cases, which are then processed using the MoEF orders,” said a senior official from the environment department, adding there was a possibility that the MoEF would amend the law to reinstate these orders.
In its order on July 7, the tribunal stated, “The office memoranda dated 12th December, 2012, and 27th June, 2013, suffer from infirmity of lack of inherent jurisdiction and authority. Resultantly, we quash both these office memoranda.”
The judgment came down heavily on the MoEF orders, pointing out they were issued without “any application of mind, where the casualty is notification 2006 and environment”. “The entire mandate of prior environmental clearance has not only been diluted, but rendered completely infructuous or ineffective by issuance of these impugned office memoranda,” stated the judgment.
The MoEF orders allowed appraisal of projects, where construction had started without the green nod, following a written resolution by the board of that company to the ministry that such violations would not be repeated. The company or the developer then faced action under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, which allowed a punishment of up to five years or a penalty of up to Rs1 lakh or both. In a majority of cases, the developers were asked to pay the penalty, instead of punishment, which failed to act as a deterrent.