Forest bench retained due to ministry’s corruption: Apex court

September 9th, 2011 - 9:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 9 (IANS) The Supreme Court Friday said that it wanted to wind up its forest bench scrutinising projects that would have an adverse bearing on environment but unbridled corruption in the sanction of clearances by the environment and forest ministry was preventing it from doing so.

“We would have up wound up the forest bench but because of the corruption we have to continue with it,” Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia said, while hearing a matter concerning setting up a cement plant by Nirma in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar district.

A bench of Chief Justice Kapadia, Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar pulled up the ministry after it was shown a letter by ministry official, P.L.Ahujarai, to Nirma Ltd. seeking a fresh study of the flora and fauna and the nature of the project by the company.

Chief Justice Kapadia asked if the ministry was not aware of apex court’s guidelines given in the Lafarge case which says that any expert opinion would be taken from panel of experts nominated by the government and not by the experts of the private project’s proponents.

The letter sent to Nirma Aug 25, 2011 reads: “You are requested to undertake a three month study on flora and fauna in the area (of the cement project) as the information/data is not fully available at the stage and to ascertain whether the project area is a wetland or a water body.”

The letter had referred to the submission of Nirma in the course of the hearing July 12, 2011 that the “details of the flora/fauna covered in the report of the expert committee under the chairmanship of Prof. C.R. Babu are incomplete”.

Nirma had also made a submission regarding the definition of wetland and non-availability of long term biodiversity data for the project site.

The expert panel was set up in pursuance of an apex court direction of March 18, 2011. Headed by Babu, a professor emeritus and former pro-vice chancellor of Delhi University, it recommended against the setting up of Nirma’s cement plant at the site as it would adversely affect the environment in the area.

Senior counsel Harish Salve, who appeared for petitioners opposing the cement plant, told the court that despite the Expert Appraisal Committee (Industry-I) agreeing with the findings of the Babu Committee that the site was a “wetland” and the plant would be “disastrous” for the environment, the ministry had still sought a fresh study by Nirma.

Salve told the court that Gujarat government “vehemently maintains that it was wasteland”.

The EAC (Industry-I) in its meeting on May 5, 2011 had said: “There could be alternative sites enough in the vicinity that breeds no contention. No fresh water sanctuary needs to be razed to pitch a cement plant therein. The approval accorded may be revoked as it was initially founded on undisclosed and incorrect postulates.”

The court said that if the proposed site for the cement plant was not a “wasteland” as was stated at the time of giving it permission to go ahead with the project Dec 8, 2008, then it will have to be axed.

“The project was cleared on some basis but that basis has changed, then the project has to go,” Chief Justice Kapadia said.

As senior counsel T.R. Andhyarujina, appearing for Nirma, referred to the Gujarat High Court order, the chief justice said that the high court has not dealt with this issue and asked him to address the apex court as if it was hearing the matter for first time.

The court said that Nirma be provided with the copy of the Babu Committee report and asked it to file its reply.

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