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A green battle only half won

Small but significant steps have been taken for environmental protection, but a lot more needs to be done

real estate Updated: Feb 06, 2016 20:18 IST
real estate

Most developers seek environment approvals once 80% of their projects are completed. Also, most post facto environment clearance cases that end up in courts are granted a stay order because builders by then have created third party rights by involving homebuyers and those projects cannot be demolished.(HT Photo)

People tired of battling errant developers who flout environmental norms (build projects without green clearance or acquire land to build projects near protected forest land or wildlife sanctuaries) have reasons to cheer.

Last month, the Supreme Court termed the construction of housing projects without environment clearance as illegal. The apex court reprimanded builders, saying, “you cannot merrily construct without getting the environment clearances. Any stay will only perpetuate this illegality. At the threshold this is a double-edged weapon. You are misleading people, seducing them to buy such flats on one hand and on the other destroying the environment.”

Three days ago, the Haryana government approved the forest department’s exercise outlining nearly 2,000 acres in and around Mangarbani located in the Aravallis in Faridabad as protected area. This demarcation means there’s now a ban on construction in and around the area, ending the 20-year-old long battle for protection of the forests as, along with the Aravallis, these play an important role in the recharge of ground water.

Environmentalists say that the two decisions - the Supreme Court terming the construction of housing projects without environment clearance as illegal and the Haryana government approving the forest department’s exercise outlining nearly 2,000 acres in and around Mangarbani located in the Aravallis in Faridabad as protected area - are only a beginning and much more needs to be done to conserve the environment.

The urbanisation authority should be taking environmental clearance before it sets out to urbanise land parcels.“The original sin happens during zoning. To have ecologically sustainable cities, it is imperative that Master Plans are subject to environment approvals at the onset. This will allow for ecologically sustainable planning and zoning of cities where there is less flooding and more green areas,” says Chetan Agarwal, an environmental analyst.

Most developers seek environment approvals once 80% of their projects are completed. Also, most post facto environment clearance cases that end up in courts are granted a stay order because builders by then have created third party rights by involving homebuyers and those projects cannot be demolished. “Almost 99% cases have been given a stay order. Builders carry out construction after getting stay order,” says S K Pal, a Supreme Court lawyer.

Even if stringent fines were to be introduced for such blatant violations, these will most likely get transferred to the homebuyers as most builder-buyer agreements clearly state that any penalty imposed by the government in the future will be passed on to the buyers. “Penalties are a way of condoning the act and not the way out,” Pal says. Most state taxes are also passed on to the homebuyers before they finally get possession of their apartments.

Usually the town and country planning departments give the go-ahead for construction and that absolves the builders in case they flout rules. If that was not the case a Chennai (the recent floods) would never have happened. Through its recent order the SC is only reiterating the burden of compliance that needs to be met. A framework exists but builders have found ways to get around it, says Vandana Menon,an environment activist.

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