NGO challenges MoEFCC’s move

Vanashakti, a city-based, non-profit environment group, has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the validity of an administrative circular issued by the union environment ministry last month, which allows ex-post facto approval of projects that have not yet obtained coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance under the CRZ Notification, 2011
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Published on Mar 31, 2021 12:37 AM IST
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ByPrayag Arora-Desai, Mumbai

Vanashakti, a city-based, non-profit environment group, has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the validity of an administrative circular issued by the union environment ministry last month, which allows ex-post facto approval of projects that have not yet obtained coastal regulatory zone (CRZ) clearance under the CRZ Notification, 2011.

“Bringing such projects and activities in compliance with the environmental laws at the earliest point of time is therefore essential, rather than leaving them unregulated and unchecked, which will be more damaging to the environment,” wrote Sujit Kumar Bajpayee, joint secretary, CRZ division, MoEFCC, in the office memorandum, dated February 19, which is addressed to the environment secretaries of all coastal states.

“This circular empowers coastal authorities/MoEFCC to regularize all kinds of CRZ violations on a day-to-day basis making it easier for environmental violators to evade substantive law. It further encourages a “pollute and pay” principle rather than the “precautionary principle”. “A public interest litigation is filed by Vanashakti on the ground that this circular is arbitrary, wholly unconstitutional and in direct contravention of recent Supreme Court judgments,” Vanashakti said in a statement issued Tuesday.

“As the project commenced construction and / or operations without a prior CRZ clearance, the respective Coastal Zone Management Authority shall assess the environmental damages caused by such an action and shall give specific recommendation in respect of activities, corresponding to the environmental or ecological damage assessed, to be taken up by the project proponent within a period of three years from the date of clearance, under Compensatory Conservation Plan (CCP) and a Community Resource Augmentation Plan (CRAP),” states the MoEFCC’s February 19 office memorandum, which has been reviewed by HT.

This procedure will allow projects that are typically permitted as per CRZ, 2011, but did not seek requisite clearances prior to commencement, to become regularised subject to fulfillment of certain conditions. Experts, however, pointed out while the amended CRZ (2019) notification has come into force, contingent coastal zone management plans (CZMP) as per the same have not yet been finalised. Until such a time, CRZ 2011 rules should remain in force, Vanashakti’s petition clarifies, adding that neither notification allows for grant of “ex-post facto CRZ clearance”, which the MoEFCC’s office memorandum proposes to facilitate, they said.

Vanshakti’s PIL is listed for urgent hearing on April 7.

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