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NGT’s Swatanter Kumar invokes Paris climate deal to quash green exemption to construction sector

Swatanter Kumar stayed the environment ministry’s notification exempting real estate projects having built-up area of up to 1,50,000 sq metres from mandatory environmental approval.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2017 19:36 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The National Green Tribunal has quashed the environment ministry’s decision to exempt the construction sector from environmental approval.
The National Green Tribunal has quashed the environment ministry’s decision to exempt the construction sector from environmental approval.(Reuters File Photo)

The National Green Tribunal has quashed the environment ministry’s decision to exempt the construction sector from environmental approval and said it violated India’s emission control obligations under the Paris climate deal.

In apparently his last order before retirement tribunal’s chairperson, Swatanter Kumar stayed the ministry’s December 2016 notification exempting real estate projects having built-up area of up to 1,50,000 sq metres from mandatory environmental approval and asked the ministry to restore appraisal of construction projects under the Air and Water Acts.

The ministry’s notification was challenged in the tribunal by four petitioners on the ground that the exemption granted would be a “huge retrograde step in the area of environment conservation”. They also claimed that the notification was in violation of the Environment Protection Act.

“The notification also ignores some essential features like source of water, source of raw material, urban ecology, provision of no development zone and construction face impacts. These aspects have a direct bearing on protection of environment and keeping in line with the Principle of Sustainable Development,” Kumar said in the order on December 8, while invoking the Paris climate deal agreed by 195 nations in 2015.

The tribunal also accused the government of diluting environment safeguards in the name of ‘ease of doing responsible business” under the grab of “housing for all” without having any mechanism for evaluation, assessment or monitoring of the environment impact of building and construction activity, considered one of the biggest contributors to air pollution.

“The construction industry consumes enormous resources and has a significant energy footprint; the sector emits 22 per cent of India’s total annual carbon-dioxide emission,” the order read. It reprimanded the ministry for overlooking its own findings of incompetence of local authorities in appraising real estate projects.

The tribunal also said that the notification takes away the powers of the pollution control boards and committees to grant or refuse consent to operate to building and construction projects. “It further dilutes the entire environmental assessment framework under the EIA notification 2006, which has been periodically strengthened and amended by the numerous orders of this Hon’ble Tribunal,” the order read.

It directed the ministry to re-examine its notification and take appropriate steps to delete, amend or rectify the clauses in light of the judgment.

“The environment ministry shall, particularly take care that the laudable social cause of ‘providing Housing to the poor’ does not get defeated by business, economic profitability with reference to ‘ease of doing business’, while particularly protecting the environment,” Kumar said.