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Western ghats need to be protected: National Green Tribunal

PANAJI: The National Green Tribunal has ruled that it would have jurisdiction to entertain all civil cases raising questions of inaction over protection of environment. 

In an order passed on Thursday, the tribunal said that the it is indisputable and an unquestionable fact that Western Ghats are ecologically sensitive and require protection. 

The government itself had appointed three different committees from time to time to find out ways and means by which the Western Ghats can be protected and its degradation prevented. 

The order came on an application filed by two environmental groups from Goa - Goa Foundation and Peaceful society - who had sought a direction to the government and their agencies not to issue any consent/environment clearance or NOC of permission under Environment protection act and other acts, within the western ghats areas, particularly in ecologically sensitive zones - ESZ 1 and 2. The main prayer is for a direction to the government authorities to discharge their obligations for protection of the western ghats as enunciated by the western ghats ecology expert panel headed by Dr Madhav Gadgil in its report dated August 31 2012. 

Besides union of India, among the parties named as respondents include state of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil nadu, state pollution control boards, etc. 

"By inaction, naturally, there will be violation of the precautionary principle and therefore, the tribunal will have jurisdiction to entertain all civil cases raising such questions of environment", the principal bench said in the order. 

Rejecting the plea of some of the respondents, the tribunal held that it has jurisdiction to hear pleas on issues of environment protection. The five member bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar directed that the main application be listed for hearing on merits.


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A Green Minister, a Green Ministry and a Green Tribunal

A Green Minister, a Green Ministry and a Green Tribunal

People and companies employing the word ‘green’ in environmental contexts are guilty of “misuse, overuse, general uselessness.”: This was the conclusion of the 2009, Annual Survey of Lake Superior State University in Michigan of words that should be banished. India is no different and the use (and the misuse) of the word ‘Green’ is common -‘Green Clearances’, ‘Green Minister’, ‘Green India Mission’, ‘Green Bench’ and the latest: the National Green Tribunal.

But then who can be termed as ‘Green’? Jairam Ramesh, was the only environment minister after Maneka Gandhi to be termed as ‘Green’ by the media and the section of the ‘green’ NGOs’. He was credited for being transparent (through his various speaking orders and updated website of the MoEF which strangely enough does not operate on weekends and after office hours) and accessible (glass door at his office). On hindsight, it is clear that the changes were cosmetic. All controversial projects from Lavasa, Navi Mumbai Airport, Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant, POSCO to name a few were approved without any adherence to environmental norms. The Minister and his officials submitted meekly to the dictates of other Ministries and Departments and justified the same only through long speaking orders which only revealed the bankruptcy in the Government structure and its subordination to corporate interest. The recent observation of the Himachal Pradesh High Court that the officials of the MoEF behaved like ‘meek lambs being taken for slaughter’ while approving the Cement project of Jaypee in violation of all laws, best describes its functioning.

If Jairam was not in the real sense ‘green’, how does one rank his successor: Jayanthi Natrajan? Well the once vocal congress spokesperson is hardy seen or even heard in her new role as India’s Environment and Forest Minister. Yet she has managed to ensure that her writ runs large in the MoEF, so much that even in the rare instances where the Forest Advisory Committee recommends for rejection of projects, she is quick to overrule them. No major policy and institutional reform has taken place or even seem to have been initiated since she took over as Minister. At the most extreme instance all that the Ministry has done is to ensure that ‘show cause’ notices are issued against the alleged violators (essentially aimed at the media to give an impression of action) without any follow up.

Going by the track record of nearly one year, Jayanthi Natrajan is truly a ‘Green Minister’: having ensured that a green signal is given to every single ecologically destructive project in the country. As is evident, the vocal congress leader is unlikely to lose her “green” tag soon.

In this rather gloomy situation, the National Green Tribunal comes as a fresh ray of hope. A judicial and technical body set through a statute, it is expected to render environmental justice to affected citizens and communities who are at the mercy of the arbitrary decisions of the MoEF and the overall lack of compliance to environmental laws. Since it started functioning almost a year back, the National Green Tribunal has already emerged as the most important institution to watch on environmental matters. In the last eight months, it has delivered a record 73 judgments and is presently hearing around 170 cases from across the country. By suspending environmental clearance granted by the MoEF based on faulty assessment in more than a dozen cases, the Green Tribunal has sent a clear signal that the ‘green signals’ of the MoEF will necessarily not be the final. The red flag by the NGT to some significant projects approved by the MoEF is a clear reminder to MoEF that its decision will no longer be accepted without a legal challenge. On the Green Tribunal rests again the ‘green’ hope of the citizens of India…

Ritwick Dutta

Editor – eRc Journal

Editorial appeared in the eRc Journal Vol V, Issue 1, January – May 2012

Tribunal mandates Radiation studies

Tribunal mandates Radiation studies before granting ‘environment clearance’ to thermal power plants

EAC failed to consider impact due to radiation; ‘Terms of Reference’ for all projects to include impact due to radiation

The National Green Tribunal in the judgment dated 20.09.2011 issued directions to the Ministry of Environment & Forests to conduct a scientific study with regard to the long term

impacts of nuclear radiation caused by the thermal power plants. The directions were issued by the NGT Bench comprising Justice C.Venkata Ramulu and Dr. Devendra Kumar Agrawal on hearing the appeal [Appeal No. 7/2011(T)] filed by the residents of the Koradi village against the ‘Environment Clearance’ granted to the Maharashtra State Power Generation Co. Ltd for expansion of 3x660 MW coal based thermal power plant at Koradi in Nagpur district of Maharashtra. [Case : Krishi Vigyan Arogya Sanstha & Ors Vs Ministry of Environment & Forests & Ors]

Observations made by the Tribunal

The Tribunal observed that while granting environment clearance to the project, the following aspects were not considered by the Expert Appraisal Committee/Ministry of Environment and Forests:

 Impact of nuclear radiation caused by thermal power plant on human habitation and ecology of the area

Cumulative impact of various existing and proposed thermal power plants in and around the project area

 The Tribunal observed that the issue with regard to effect of nuclear radiation on human population and ecology in and around the area was raised in the public hearing but the same was neither examined nor incorporated in the final Environment Impact Assessment report.

The Tribunal relied on various research publications on Radioactivity submitted by the appellants, which highlighted the fact that the waste produced by the coal plants is more radioactive than that generated by the nuclear power plants which can result into severe environment and human health problems.

Directions issued to the Ministry of Environment & Forests

The Tribunal issued the following directions to the Ministry of Environment & Forests and disposed of the appeal with liberty to the Appellants to take appropriate steps if the same are not complied with:

I. Long term study with regard to the impacts of Nuclear radiation:

To conduct a long term study of the impacts caused by nuclear radiation from the thermal power projects by involving Bhabha Atomic Research Agency or any such other recognized institution dealing with nuclear radiation with reference to the coal ash generated by the thermal power project particularly the cumulative effect of a number of thermal power projects located in the area on human habitation, environment and ecology and to also consider the health profile of the residents within the area in which the pollutants are expected to spread from the thermal power project.

II Radiation studies to be a mandatory part of the Terms of Reference:

To include in the Terms of Reference of all the future projects asking the proponent to furnish details of possible nuclear radioactivity levels of the coal proposed to be used for the thermal power plant.

II. National Standards to be prescribed from the Department of Atomic Energy:

To get the national standards prescribed from the Department of Atomic Energy, Govt. of India within a period of one year from the date of receipt of this order, as to the permissible levels of nuclear radiation in residential, industrial and ecologically sensitive areas of the country.

Considering the above, the Tribunal also took note that the grant of Environment Clearance is basically a procedural law and any procedural lapses such as collection and evaluation of basic data which may lead to threat to the environment, ecology and conservation of natural resources, shall have to be taken seriously by the Tribunal while dealing with the disputes coming before it. It further stated that the Expert Appraisal Committee/ Ministry of Environment and Forests should consider even small deficiencies in the Environment Impact Assessment report which should be rectified by the project proponent.

Article appeared in the eRc Journal Vol V, Issue 1, January – May 2012

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