Every citizen can object to environmental damage: Court

June 21st, 2009 - 2:32 pm ICT by IANS  

By Kanu Sarda
New Delhi, June 21 (IANS) Be it public spirited people, environmental activists or voluntary groups, everyone has the right to raise a voice against environmental damage and be considered an aggrieved party, says Delhi High Court.

Justice S. Ravindra Bhat said, “The world as we know it is gravely imperilled by mankind’s collective folly. Unconcern to the environment has reached damaging levels that threaten the

very existence of life on this planet.”

“In cases where complaints or appeals are filed bona fide by public spirited, interested persons, environmental activists or other such voluntary organisations working for the betterment of the community as a whole, they are to be construed as aggrieved persons.”

In the ruling last week, the court made it clear that the law is accessible and the same for all and set aside an order of the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA).

The NEAA had dismissed environmental activist Prafulla Samantra’s plea against the setting up of an alumina smelter plant in Bhurkamunda village in Jharsuguda district of Orissa, stating he is not an aggrieved person in the case.

Samantra, president of the Orissa unit of Lok Shakti Abhiyan - an organisation dedicated to social and environmental causes - challenged the order in the high court.

Setting aside the NEAA order, the court said: “If standing before a special tribunal created to assess the impact of projects and activities that impact potential threats to the environment is construed narrowly, organizations working for the betterment of the environment whether in the form of NGOs or otherwise would be effectively kept out of the discourse that is so crucial an input in such proceedings.

“Such an association of persons, as long as they work in the field of environment, possess a right to oppose and challenge all actions, whether of the state or private parties, that impair or potentially impair the environment.”

The court asked the NEAA to consider the plea of the environmental activist and slapped a fine of Rs.50,000 on Vedanta Alumina Limited, which is setting up the alumina smelter plant in Orissa.

The court set aside the company’s plea that the petitioner has no ground for filing this petition.

Asking for Samantra to be considered an aggrieved party, the court said: “This is established by the fact that his organisation was closely following the issue of the setting up of an aluminium smelter plant during various stages of the project to the extent that it had, on two occasions, objected to the holding of the public hearing and sent a detailed letter elucidating the objections and further when it learnt about alleged unauthorized constructions at the project site, he wrote to the various authorities to stop such activities.”

It added: “If public duties are to be enforced and the social collective’s diffused rights and interests are to be protected, we have to utilise the initiative and zeal of public-minded persons and organisations by allowing them to move the court and act for a general or group interest, even though they may not be directly injured in their own rights.”

(Kanu Sarda can be contacted at kanu.s@ians.in)

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