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[PR] Stopping Construction of (Kanhar) Dam will neither serve interest of ecology nor public purpose says NGT

Kanhar construction

The much awaited judgment on construction of Kanhar dam was pronounced today at Faridkot House, by the Principal Bench of National Green Tribunal chaired by Justice Swatanter Kumar.  The petition was filed by Advocate Parul Gupta on behalf of the applicants- Debadityo Sinha, Vindhya Bachao Abhiyan and Om Dutt Singh, People’s Union for Civil Liberties before the Principal Bench, National Green Tribunal on 22nd December, 2014. The matter was reserved for judgment on 24th March, 2015.

A Brief Background

The application was filed by the applicants against the ongoing construction activity of the Kanhar Irrigation Project in district Sonebhadra, Uttar Pradesh in violation of the provisions of EIA Notification, 2006 specified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. The applicants in their pleadings have submitted that the project undertook minor digging work (preparatory work) till 1989 and subsequently was left abandoned by the State for several years. Since the construction of the project was commenced in December, 2014 i.e. after a long period of

suspension for almost 25 years, the applicants filed the abovementioned application before this Hon’ble Tribunal seeking an immediate stay on the construction activities on the ground. It was contended that as the project is undertaking its construction now, the same shall adhere to the present laws and be permitted to be carried out only after a detailed environment impact assessment of the project taking into account the present environmental and ecological conditions of the area.  Approximately 2400 Acres of Forests needed to be diverted, for which the applicants claimed that the State Govt. of Uttar Pradesh also need a ‘Forest Clearance’ from Central Government.

 Following is some excerpts from the original judgment, also available on NGT website

Observations

  • The Environmental Clearance granted in the  year  1980  was a  mere  formality  and  did  not  safeguard environment  and  ecology  of  the  area  in  question. If  the  project  of similar  scale  was  proposed  in  the  times  when  actual  construction work had started after transfer of the required lands, it would have required  serious  considerations  from  various  environmental perspectives  and  much  harsher  conditions  would  have  been imposed  on  the  project  proponent.
  • Whatever be the situation at site, very substantial work of the project is still to be completed. Even the photographs placed by the Respondents  on  record  do  not  show  that  the  project  is  anywhere near to  its completion.  We  are  of  the  considered  view that  even  if the project is treated to be an ongoing project, even then, its impact on environment, ecology and biodiversity of the area is required to be  considered objectively  and  in  its  correct  perspective.
  • Nature of the project involves  tunneling,  making  of  canals,  roads,  bridges  and  other concrete  works  which  all  would, in  the  normal  course  of  events have an impact on the environment. The Environmental Clearance which  was  granted  33  years  back  cannot be held as good in  the field  of  environment.  With  the  progress  in  time  and  the developments  that  have  taken  place  during  this  long  time,  are certainly of relevant consideration for examining the environmental impact  of  the  project  on  the  area  in  question. The  applicants  plea that the project activity which has started at a massive scale in the recent  past  is  bound  to  have  impact  on  environment,  aquatic ecology, forest and terrestrial biodiversity, wild life habitat, climate change  and  would  also  result  in  loss  of  medicinal plants and  rich biodiversity is an element of merit. From the pleadings of the parties and  the  documents  on  record,  it  is  evident  that  hardly  any construction or other major activity had taken place prior to 1994.
  • The  consent  of  the  other  States  came  in  the  year  2002  and  2010 respectively.  The Central Water  Commission granted  approval  in September, 2010. The cumulative effect of these documents seen in light of the circumstances of the case clearly shows that the project implementation took off in the recent past and not years back.
  • Admittedly, the project in question had  not  established  itself, much  less it had  become  operational either  in  1994,  or  2006 or even  in  2014.  The  expansion  and modernization would have to be of an ongoing project. The project must  exist  on the site,  otherwise  it  would  be  a  project  which  is sought to be implemented and modified at planned stage, i.e., on paper  and  not  in reality. In  such  projects,  obligation  to  comply with  the  existing  environmental  laws  would  certainly  accrue. The laws even if taken as prospective and not retrospective, even then the  project  which  has  not  been  implemented,  at  least substantially, would be required to comply with the environmental conditions as such interpretations of these laws alone, would serve the object of environmental statutes, public good and protection of the Fundamental right in terms of Article 21 of the Constitution of India.  The object  of  environmental  laws  is  to  protect  the environment, ecology and public health in the interest of society. It would be impermissible to throttle the compliance to these laws on the  assumption that  such  laws would  not  be  applicable  to  the existing units or to the units or the projects which are ongoing or are at their very initial stage of construction.
  • Undoubtedly, the project  is  nowhere  near its completion. It  has  still  miles  to  go  before  it  is operationalised and serves  the  purpose  that  it  is  required  to  serve.  There were considerable  changes  in  the  scope  of  the  work,  technical parameters,  dimensions  and  particularly,  the  expenditure of  the project. We have already noticed that till 2010 even the concurrence of  all  the  concerned  States had not  been  received  and  the  project had not been cleared by Central Water Commission for the revised parameters.  
  • The above discussion clearly shows that the Project Proponent should  have  been  advised  to  seek  Environmental  Clearance  under the  Notification  of  1994  and  /  or  2006. There  is  legal  obligation upon  the  Project  Proponent  to  continue  and  complete  the  project with due regard to the environmental laws in force. Any law and for that  matter,  more  specifically,  the  environmental  laws  are  not mutable.  They  are  progressive  and  subject  to  change.  The provisions must be construed with regard to the scheme of the laws in  force and  the object  sought  to be achieved by  such  legislations. Certainly the entire development of the area will affect 19 villages of 3 States,  which  is  a  relevant  consideration.  The  impact  of the project activities and its completion will have diverse impacts upon the environment, ecology, rivers and the biodiversity of the area in question. Having obtained the Environmental Clearance in the year 1980 and the project being nowhere near completion even in 2015, the  environment  and  ecological  degradation  is  a  matter  of  serious concern  and  the  Project  Proponent should  be  obligated to  take  all such precautionary and preventive measures that are required to be taken in the interest of environment and ecology. We have already noticed that there is nothing on record of the Tribunal to show that there  has  been  strict  compliance  to  the  conditions  of  the Environmental Clearance granted in the year 1980 and even to the conditions stated for transfer of forest land in the letter dated 27th February, 1982.
  • The Environmental Clearance granted in the  year  1980  was a  mere  formality  and  did  not  safeguard environment  and  ecology  of  the  area  in  question. If  the  project  of similar  scale  was  proposed  in  the  times  when  actual  construction work had started after transfer of the required lands, it would have required  serious  considerations  from  various  environmental perspectives  and  much  harsher  conditions  would  have  been imposed  on  the  project  proponent. Some  activities  of  the  project, like  the  building  of  the  roads,  bridge  and  dams  etc.  would  have  a different impact at the construction stage and operation stage.  The facts of the present case, examined in the light of the principles of sustainable development and the precautionary principle would tilt in favour of the project proponent but even by imposition of proper conditions in consonance with the laws in force, which in any case exists right from 1986 onwards.  Another factor that has persuaded us  to  pass  an  equitable  order  in  the  present  case  is  the  fact  that huge amount  of public  funds  have  already  been  spent  on  the project,  large  scale  construction  and  digging  has  already  taken place as of now. Any direction for stoppage of work or demolition of the project would certainly not serve either the ends of justice or the environment. The  project also contemplates  to  provide  water  to drought prone areas.
  • Another  aspect  which  requires  to  be  noticed  in  favour  of  the invocation  of  precautionary  principle  is that  large  scale  industrial development has taken place in and around this area but still it has not  affected  the  area in  terms  of  prosperity  and  health. Life  of  the people  living  in  that  area  still remains  backward. This  project  is intended  to  provide  and  inject  better  facilities  of  living  and  better environmental air to the area in question.
  • The Environmental Clearance to the Project is of a period prior to the enactment of the Environmental (Protection) Act 1986. In the light  of  the  fact  that  actual  impacts of  the  project  on  the  ecology, environment  and  the  people  would  be  noticed  only  on commissioning  of  the  project,  thus there  is  need  to  reassess  the environmental  impacts in  the  light  of  the  development  that  has taken place in the area around the project, both within the District of Sonbhadra and in the entire Singrauli region. The environmental impact assessment prior to the grant of EC in 1980 confined itself to the assessment of natural resources, mainly, forest diversity with botanical surveys of trees, shrubs and grasses being carried out by the botanical  survey of India. The  EIA  study  had merely  listed out the  various  plant  species  occurring  in  the  area  and  made observation  that  there  are  no  rare  or  endangered  species  of  the plant occurring in the area. It is further said that there is not much vegetation  in  the  area  except  common  species  of  dry  deciduous forest and  that  there  will  be  no  major  environmental  impact  if  the proposed dam is constructed.
  • Most  of  the  industrial  development  which  has  taken place  in  last  30  to  40  years  has  caused immense  stress on  the environment and consequently on the people. Obviously, therefore, an  environmental  clearance  granted  in  1980  would  not  have factored with the  level of industrial development and  it cumulative impact on the environment.
  • A  simple  reading  of  the  conditions  for  EC  will  only demonstrate  that  such  factors  as  Air  Pollution  caused  due  to  the industries, power plants, mining and stone crushing  has not even being  mentioned  in  the  EC, let  alone  gone  into  comprehensively while undertaking Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • The district  is  also one  of  the  districts which have high percentage of the area under forest. As against the forest cover of less than 6 % for the entire State of UP, Sonbhadra District accounts for about 38 % of the forest cover (though most of it is more than 60% open forests with canopy density of less than 40%)
  • Therefore, against an area of 980.40 hectares diverted for the irrigation project, the area brought under compensatory afforestation in terms of the statement filed by a  Divisional  Forest  Officer,  Renukoot  Forest Division  is  only  666 hectares of forest plantations and 80 KMs of road side plantations. Though  not  specifically  mentioned  in  the  Report  of  the  DFO, however, it emerges that there is still deficit of about 314 hectares of  area  to  be covered  under  compensatory  afforestation.  The  reply filed  by  the  State  of  UP  (Respondent  No.  1  and  2)  is  silent  as  to when  and  where  the  deficit  of  compensatory  afforestation is proposed to be  liquidated. It is  also not clear from the Report filed by  the  Divisional  Forest  Officer  as  to  the  present  status  of  the compensatory  afforestation  in  terms  of  the  survival  percentage  of the  plantation  and  their  growth  and  their  present  status. The compensatory  afforestation  which  is  claimed  to  have  been  done  in the  years  1984  to  86  would  have  reached  sufficient  degree  of maturity  and  should  be  a  full  grown  forest  in  30  years,  the  time elapsed  since  the  compensatory  afforestation  activity  was  done.  This is particularly important considering the fact that all the forest areas that were diverted in terms of the order of Governor of UP in 1982,  has  been  cleared  of  the  pre  existing  vegetation  and  in  the area that was taken up for compensatory afforestation should be a full grown forest as of now. It is also essential to assess the impact of  such  large  scale  clearance  of  forest  when  compensatory afforestation has not been completed. There being a deficit of more than 300 hectares even now as per the document on record.
  • In other words, in order for the project  to  be  completed  as  per  the  revised  technical  and  physical parameters, the  project  authority  would  require  additional  441.07 hectare of forest land for its completion. There is not even a whisper in  the  reply  of  the  State  of  UP  to  suggest  that  State  of  UP  has submitted  a  proposal  for  acquiring  this  balance  forest  lands  in terms  of  the  Provision  of  the  Forest  (Conservation)  Act  1980.  The Affidavit of the MoEF & CC (Respondent No. 3) is also silent on this.
  • Be that as it may, assuming that the Governor of  UP  approved  the  diversion  of  2422.593  acres  of  forest  land validly,  no  such  diversion  could  have  happened  in  1982  without prior concurrence of the central govt. under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980.

Directions:

In  the  application,  there  is  no  prayer  for  setting  aside of  the Environmental Clearance dated 14th April, 1980. There is no Forest Clearance  placed  on  record  by  any  of  the  parties  before  the Tribunal. We  are  not  inclined  to  accept  the  contentions  of  the applicant and grant prayer that the project work should be stopped and it should not be permitted to continue till the Project Proponent seeks fresh Environmental Clearance. In our considered opinion, it would  neither  serve  the  interest  of  the  environment  or  ecology  nor would  it  serve  public  purpose. Huge  amounts  have  been spent  on this  project. The  project  which  was  expected  to  cost  the  nation 27.75 Crores, is  now  costing  the  country 2252.29 Crores at  2013 price level. Stoppage  of  work  would  further  enhance  the cost  of construction  and  would  be  unnecessary  burden  on  public exchequer.

Applying the principle of sustainable development, while giving  due  regard  to  the  protection  of  environment  and while ensuring  that  no  irreversible  damage  and  degradation  of environment is permitted in terms of Section 20 of NGT Act, we are constrained to  issue certain directions. We  find  it  inevitable  for us to  issue  directions  keeping  in  mind  peculiar  facts  and circumstances of the present case, thus, the following order:

(1) We constitute the following Committee which shall submit the report to the Tribunal on the issues stated hereinafter and in light of this judgment:

(a)  Principle Chief Conservator of Forest (Uttar Pradesh) or his representative.
(b)  Chairman  or  his  Nominee  of  Expert  Appraisal  Committee of  River  Valley  and  Hydro  Power  Projects  of  Ministry  of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
(c)  Member Secretary, Central Pollution Control Board.
(d)  Representative  of Ministry  of  Environment,  forest  and Climate Change.
(e)  Representative of Central Water Commission.
(f)  Chief  Engineer,  Department  of  Irrigation,  State  of  Uttar Pradesh.
(g)   Chief  Engineer,  Department  of  Irrigation,  State  of Chhattisgarh.
(h)   Expert from IIT, Kanpur.
 
 (2)  The  Committee  shall  specifically  report  whether  the conditions  imposed  in  the  consent  order  dated  14th  April, 1980 and 27th February, 1982 of the Forest Department have been strictly complied with or not, in all respects.

(3)  The  Committee while  examining  the  compliance  of  the conditions, as noticed above, shall specifically report whether the conditions have been complied with in its entirety or not. What is the status thereof and what steps are required to be taken in that regard?

(4)  Whether  there  is  complete  and  comprehensive Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy in place in relation to the project.

(5)  Modifications in  execution  of  the  project, if any,  required  to ensure  protection  of  environment  and  ecology  in  the execution of the project in question.

(6)  The  Committee  is  required  to  make  its  general recommendations,  measures  and  the  conditions  that  should be imposed upon the project proponent to ensure that further progress of the project does not have any adverse impacts on ecology,  environment,  rivers,  hydrology, biodiversity  and  on all the surrounding forests, villages and tribes.

(7)  The  Committee  shall  assess  and  examine  the  present  status of  the  compensatory  afforestation  done  by  the  forest department  during  1984,  85  and  86  over  an  area  of  666 hectares  and 80 kms  on  the  road  side. The  Committee shall make assessment of the survival percentage and the present status of compensatory plantation through random sampling.   
 
(8)  The  Committee  shall  examine  the  proposal  of  Project Proponent with  reference  to  the  forest  area  already  diverted (980.40  Hectare)    and  the  balance  area  of  441.07  hectares that  is  required  to be diverted  in  terms  of  the  note prepared by the  Administrator  of  the  project  while  seeking  clearance for the project.   

(9)  The  Project  Proponent  shall  not  take  up  any  new  activity  on the  additional  forest  area  of  441.07  hectares  proposed  to  be acquired  unless  specific  permissions  under  the  Forest (Conservation)  Act  1980  is  taken  and  the  area  diverted  for non forest activity by the Competent Authority.     

(10) The Committee shall study the impact of loss of 980 hectares of  forest  area  which is comprised of  wild  life  habitats  with specific  reference  to  the elephant  corridor,  rich  floral  and faunal diversity.   

(11) Undertaking  Social  forestry  in  resettlement  colonies  of  the displaced  persons  was  one  of  the  conditions  of  EC. The Committee  shall  examine  whether  social  forestry  for ameliorative  measures  against  air pollution  and  adverse impact on local ecology and environment has been taken up and  to  what  extent.  The  committee  shall  also  suggest measures as  to how the resettlement colonies particularly, if located close to the industrial clusters of Sonbhadra, can be protected  from  the  adverse  effects of  thermal  power  plants,
coal  and  bauxite  mining,  aluminum  and  cement  industries, particularly, form  the  air  and  water  pollution  and  health impacts due to Mercury, Arsenic and Fluoride contamination and  as  a  consequence of  the  presence  of  large  number  of industries  in  the  District  of  Sonbhadra  in  particular  and Singrauli in general.

(12) In the light of the fact that the Kanhar River flows through to a  drought  prone  area  where  water  is  a  critical  input  for  the life  supports  systems,  both  on  land  and  within  the  aquatic ecosystem,  the  Committee  should  examine  maintenance  of certain  minimum  environmental  flow  downstream  of  the Dam.   

(13) The  Committee  while  preparing  the  comprehensive  report shall take into consideration, if there is any adverse impact of the works already executed, on the environment and ecology of the areas and the remedial steps that should be taken.

(14) The  Project  Proponent  shall  complete  the  construction  or activity that is under way and would not commence any new activity  or  construction  without  specific  recommendations of the Committee in that behalf.

(15) The  Committee  shall  pay  specific  attention  in  regard  to  the conditions  that  should  be  imposed  upon  the  project proponent  for  conservation,  protection,  reforestation, restoration  of  environment  and  ecology  wherever  any environmental  damage  or  degradation  has  occurred  as  a result of this project.

24.  In view of the fact that we are finally disposing off the Original Application,  M.A.  No.  902  of  2014  (praying  for interim  stay  on  the further progress and construction of the project) and M.A. No. 14 of 2014 (praying for taking of action against respondents for violating the orders of the Tribunal on 24th December, 2014) do not survive for consideration of the Tribunal and are, therefore, disposed of as such.

Opinions

I have rather a mixed opinion for the judgment. Although it approves all the major contentions raised by us that the old clearances of 1980's holds no good with respect to the present changes in the environmental conditions, it has disallowed halting construction activity on account of the fact that huge amount of money has already been spent on the project and delaying the same at present for want of fresh clearances under law would neither serve the interest of the environment or ecology nor would it serve any public purpose. Although certain directions for formation of an expert committee have provided a part relief yet the decision gets tilted in favor of the State due to the fait accompli created by them.  -Parul Gupta, Advocate for the Applicants

The judgment says that ‘very substantial work of the project is still to be completed’ and has agreed that the project is nowhere near to completion. A committee is formed of experts of Ministries, PCCF and IIT Kanpur which is virtually the specialized monitoring body being formed by court for this particular project which will deal with the critical issues like complete R&R and  would study the environmental and ecological impacts from all aspects including environmental flow requirement of river and impacts on elephant corridor. Although the judgment allowed the construction which is underway, it has stated that approval of the Expert Committee would be required for any new construction activity. If these directions are implemented in letter and spirit, it would provide relief to a certain extent.-Debadityo Sinha, (Vindhya Bachao Abhiyan) and Petitioner

After the elaborate and severely adverse analysis, the decision is a complete non sequitur. I kept reading the observations with full assent and was jolted when I came to the decision. - Padmashri Dr. Ramaswamy R. Iyer, Former Secretary Water Resources, Govt. of India

This is most disappointing and inconsistent order. - Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network for Dams, Rivers and People

Feedback is welcome!

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Tags: Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Forest, Kanhar, Litigation, National Green Tribunal, Dams & Barrages, Biodiversity & Wildlife, Uttar Pradesh

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