Chavan batted for the Lavasa hill city project on Tuesday by ruling out any kind of demolition, even as the state environment department mulls over filing a criminal complaint against Lavasa Corporation, following instructions by the Union environment ministry to take action.
Ajit Gulabchand, chairman of Hindustan Construction Company, and one of Lavasa’s promoters, met Chavan on Tuesday. “Ajit Gulabchand met me and discussed the issues related to environmental violations. The 2,000 hectares for which the company had applied for environmental clearance has got a conditional go-ahead from the environment ministry committee, and they are ready to fulfil the required 34 conditions,” the chief minister said.
Referring to the 681 of the 2,000 hectares on which construction has begun without the requisite environmental nod, Chavan said: “Lavasa is a big project and action by the ministry does not mean demolition. We can use other means like charging a penalty to settle the matter.”
NCP MP Supriya Sule, too, met Chavan around the same time as Gulabchand, but when asked if she had come to attend the Lavasa meeting, Chavan said: “She had come for the meeting on road safety plan.”
The environment ministry had asked the state to take action against the company for the violation on the 681 hectares. Under the existing laws, the state environment department will have to file a criminal complaint against the developers under section 19 of the Environment Protection Act (EPA). The developers can be fined up to Rs 1 lakh or will face imprisonment of up to five years, or both under the Act.
The department has sought legal opinion from the law and judiciary department on how to proceed, and has not yet filed the case. “We will go ahead after we get a written opinion from law and judiciary,” state environment minister Sanjay Deotale said.
The department wants to know whether a criminal case can be filed even as two petitions concerning the issue are being heard in court. “Under EPA, demolition is not an option. There is recourse to penalty and imprisonment,” said an official. The state will have to take action as it is one of the prerequisites for granting conditional clearance to the first phase of the project, spread across 2,000 hectares.
Social activist Medha Patkar demanded that the Special Planning Authority (SPA) status given to Lavasa Corporation be scrapped. The status permits the firm to govern the city like a civic body, with similar powers. “We welcome the government’s decision to ask for reimbursement of the losses to the environment, but oppose the SPA,” she said.