Conditional green nod for Lavasa hill city project (Roundup)

November 9th, 2011 - 10:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Mumbai, Nov 9 (IANS) In a major relief to Lavasa Corporation, the environment ministry Wednesday gave conditional clearance to the first phase of the Rs.3,000 crore Lavasa hill city project near Pune in Maharashtra.

The Lavasa Corporation Ltd (LCL) welcomed the move, saying it was a positive development and came as a reprieve for all stakeholders, including investors and villagers.

Wednesday’s environment ministry order follows the recent directions of the Bombay High Court to the state government to take “credible action” and the Oct 13 order of the ministry stipulating certain conditions before Lavasa project’s first phase could be cleared.

Following this, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) Nov 4 initiated criminal proceedings against 15 LCL officials, including chairman-cum-managing director Ajit Gulabchand, in a Pune district court.

In a 10-page order, the ministry Wednesday accorded environment clearance to the first phase of the hill city project (2,000 hectares) and imposed 57 specific and general conditions, including earmarking of five percent of the total cost of the project towards corporate social responsibility.

“The ministry has cleared the Lavasa project, saying all the preconditions have been met with the Maharashtra government taking action against the company for violation of green laws,” a ministry official told IANS.

The ministry last month denied environment clearance on non-compliance of the pre-conditions.

Lavasa, a project of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), had in February applied for fresh environment clearance of phase-I in Mulshi sub-district near Pune.

The preconditions included credible action by the Maharashtra government against the violation of environment laws, submission of a written commitment by the company that green violations shall not be repeated, and that the scale and intensity of development of the hill town shall be as per Hill Station Regulations.

The ministry had Nov 25, 2010, slapped a show-cause notice on Lavasa Corporation as it had allegedly failed to secure necessary environmental clearances before starting work on its 5,000-plus hectare lake city project coming up in Mulshi sub-district of Pune district, around 200 km from Mumbai.

The company approached the Bombay High Court against the environment ministry’s order.

The Maharashtra government had filed a criminal complaint against Lavasa Corporation, naming six officers and all nine directors of Lavasa, including Ajit Gulabchand and Annirudha Deshpande, in the case.

An LCL spokesman said: “The inordinate delay has led to a huge setback to the project and LCL has a challenging task at hand to bring the project up to speed to meet our commitments.”

The company pointed out that it had started development work at Lavasa in 2004 with environment clearance granted by the Maharashtra government and only after being invited by them to participate in the Hill Station Development Act, 1996.

With the environment ministry granting conditional clearance to the Lavasa hill-city project Wednesday, the Maharashtra government said it will “review” the criminal proceedings initiated against the company’s top brass.

“Whatever action has been initiated (by the state government) was on the basis of directions given by the centre. In view of the latest developments, we shall review the action initiated against Lavasa Corporation Ltd,” Minister of State for Environment Sachin Ahir told reporters.

Meanwhile, activist Vishwambhar Chaudhari of the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movement (NAPM), which has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court, termed the ministry’s order “unfortunate and politically motivated”.

He added that the next hearing in the matter in the high court is scheduled for Nov 16 (next Wednesday), while the case before a Pune court can start anytime.

Anti-Lavasa activist and environmentalist Suniti S.R. said the nod was on expected lines.

“Given the hectic meetings of top officials of Maharashtra in New Delhi in the past few days, this (order) was quite expected,” Suniti told mediapersons.

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