Lavasa Corporation on Friday told the Bombay High Court that it did not need to take environmental clearances from the Centre, because its lake city near Pune was a "tourism project" and not a township.
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on the other hand, alleged that Lavasa Corp was fully aware that it needed clearances, but still "brazenly" continued its activities.
On November 25, MOEF issued a show-cause notice to Lavasa, demanding an explanation as to why it did not obtain clearances as per rules under Environment Protection Act, amended by notifications in 1994 and 2004.
MOEF also asked the corporation, which is developing a hill station across 5000 hectares in Mulshi taluka of Pune district, to stop the ongoing constructions.
Lavasa's lawyer, senior counsel Shekhar Nafade, argued that company has invested Rs 6,000 crore in the project, and MOEF's issuing of notice without giving hearing was a "high-handed" action.
Division bench of chief justice Mohit Shah and S J Kathawala, however, did not vacate the stay on friday, as the arguments would continue on December 6.
Advocate Nafade said that construction at Lavasa began in 2004, but MOEF issued notice only in November. "When we asked the state government, it told us that environmental clearances were not necessary because it was a tourism project," he said.
Nafade alleged that notice came to be issued only after some social activists, represented by National Alliance of People's Movements, made a complaint to the environment minister. "This is a case of appeasing political activists," he said.
"What about public sector banks? (who have lent loans for the project)," he asked.
The division bench too asked Additional Solicitor General Darius Khambata why MOEF was late in sending the notice.
Khambata said that when MOEF came to know about alleged violations was not the issue, but "when did they (Lavasa) know (that clearances were necessary)" was the issue.
"They brazenly went on with the construction, though admittedly they had no environmental clearance," he said.
The burden to prove that project was not harming the environment was on Lavasa, he added.
Further, Khambata said that MOEF was ready to give hearing to Lavasa at the earliest, and would pass order before December 31.
Meanwhile, Alliance of People's Movements, which has already filed a PIL against Lavasa, today demanded that it be allowed to intervene in Lavasa's petition.
"The court has now clubbed the PIL with Lavasa's case," said APM's lawyer advocate Y P Singh.