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Saturday, 05 November 2011 00:00
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Lavasa landslide

Maharashtra clears Lavasa, slaps criminal case on it!

 

The Maharashtra government’s decision to file a criminal case against promoters and officials of hill city project Lavasa in the Pune magistrate’s court is not just harsh—few recall criminal cases filed for violating the Environment Protection Act, and that too as a precondition to clearing the project—it is bizarre since no state government official has been named even though it was the state that cleared the project every step of the way. Although it is true the state government filed the case only after the Centre upped the ante, if Lavasa promoters and officials are to be criminally prosecuted, so must state government officials—as environment minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the state to take ‘credible action’ against Lavasa before the second phase of its project could be cleared and, last month, his successor Jayanthi Natarajan refused to clear the project till this was done.

What makes the case even more curious is that action has been taken on behalf of the central government even while the Bombay High Court is examining whether the Centre has any jurisdiction over the project, a stand taken by both the project promoters as well as the state government.

In 1996, two years after a central government policy came out, the Maharashtra government came out with a hill station policy—it was under this that the Lavasa project was started and, in 2002 and 2004, the project got environment clearances for its first phase from the Maharashtra government. Four months later, in July 2004, the Centre came out with an amendment to its 1994 policy which said that new construction projects and those over 1,000 metres above mean sea level would come under the central purview. Since Lavasa was not a new project and was below 1,000 metres (except for an entrance gateway which the firm has said it would be glad to demolish), the firm did not apply to the Centre—in 2009, though, it applied to the Centre for clearance for the second phase of the project. In 2005, the Maharashtra government even wrote to the central environment ministry saying the project never fell under its jurisdiction. In 2010, before Lavasa’s IPO, however, the Centre issued a stop work order, and Lavasa went to court arguing the Centre had no jurisdiction—the case is still being heard but this didn’t stop the environment ministry from demanding the state take action against Lavasa for violating the Environment Protection Act. Quite chicken-and-egg.

 

 

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