MoEF Expert Committee Report on Lavasa vindicates NAPM’s struggle against the mega-scale of violations by the company

January 25, 2011

January 25, 2011

National Alliance of People’s Movements welcomes the report by Expert Committee (constituted by MoEF on directions from Hon’ble Bombay High court) examining disputed issues related to Lavasa Hill Township project developing near Pune. The Report and the Final Order is indeed a courageous and honest on the part of the MOEF committee.

NAPM also appreciates the decision of MoEF to accept the said report of the committee in its “entirety” thereby concluding that Lavasa has violated Environmental Laws – EIA Notification 1994, EIA Notification 2004 and EIA Notification 2006 and has caused a massive damage to the environment and ecology. It is a significant victory for the project affected people who have been at the core of movement demanding justice.

We are pleased to note that MoEF has upheld all points raised by NAPM and many other civil society organizations and activists in case of Lavasa project and rightly so, since all of these are fully within the legal framework. MoEF has strongly expressed in the report that the construction activity undertaken by the Lavasa Corporation Ltd. is unauthorized and hence, the earlier directive of the Ministry related to ‘Stop Work Order’ will continue and the status quo will be maintained.

However, NAPM further expresses that MoEF should also take timely decision on violation of Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. Para 6 (xii) of the report prepared by Expert Committee reveals that this Act has been violated by Lavasa with respect to F.S. No. 35 and that enquiry is in progress.

The report brings out violations by Lavasa of various environment legislations and notifications and Forest Conservation Act, 1980. But where the former has been pointed out vividly by the report the latter is left unattended. We believe that MoEF will amend the final order as soon as a decision on this issue is taken. Also, we presume that separate action will be prescribed by MoEF in case Lavasa is proved to have violated the said Act.

We appreciate that the Order and Report clearly recommended a review of ‘Special Planning Authority’ given to Lavasa by Maharashtra State Government and of ‘Hill Station Development Policy’ of Maharashtra. The report also raises concern over land transactions ranging from private land purchase/transactions, ceiling land transfer and MKVDC and government land transfer. This and many other conclusions such as those related especially to the clearances granted to the project without obeying government legislations in place are issues on which we expect the Maharashtra State Govt. to act on; promptly and honestly. We think these are the basic and important issues which cannot be left unnoticed. We look forward to the new leadership of Maharashtra state government to initiate the action and take appropriate decision.

We would like to reinstate critique of Hill Station Development Policy and Special Planning Authority which demand that the High Power Review Committee must be in place with its composition agreeable to all those who have been parties to the conflict over “Lavasa” issues.

We trust that MoEF will also uphold its order dated 25th November 2010 which had directed removal of all unauthorized structures constructed from March 2004 till date if the project is found guilty. Any decisions on demolition or no demolition can be taken only after the Plan, EIA impacts are assessed by all stakeholders and if consent is granted. However, now when the Expert Committee has certified all violations, Lavasa should not be regularized merely after claiming financial penalties. In case of Adarsh, MoEF has taken a bold move by issuing a notice under Section 5 of Environment (Protection) Act 1986 for project demolition. We hope that in case of Lavasa also appropriate action will be initiated by upholding the principle of natural justice.

We assert that the Ministry should decide and expect from the Judiciary to take clear and strong position on Lavasa project’s illegality which cannot be diluted on the basis of criteria such as investment made till date. NAPM insists that the issue should be considered in its entirety of environmental protection and respecting the Rights of the local people.

By regularising Lavasa’s violations, a bad precedent will be set which will be followed by the other projects in the country to violate the law of the land with impunity and seek clearance later. As regards “employment”, it too cannot be a criteria to regularise or give any concession to Lavasa since the corporation also has not given permanent rozgar to the locals and only provided contractual labour work to a few hundred while taking away the land, livelihood, shelter and dignity of poor and resource-less.

Lavasa’s criticism about the MoEF’s Expert Committee Report and the order is non-tangible and unacceptable. The Committee cannot question the legality of the whole process and the committee’s jurisdiction.

However, with the hope that MoEF will take into consideration concerns and suggestions highlighted above, we, NAPM accept this report in its entirety and express thanks to all the members of Expert Committee for thoroughly examining the project and rendering justice to environment, ecology and project affected local people.

In Solidarity,

For NAPM,

Medha Patkar , Suniti SR, Vishwambhar Chaudhry, Rifat Mumtaz
Prasad Bagve, Gyaneshwar Shedge, Leelabai Margale, Thumabai Walhekar