Ban on Goa's Mopa airport construction lifted

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday lifted the embargo it had imposed on construction of the greenfield international airport at Mopa in Goa in January 2019, accepting its fresh environment clearance (EC) by the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC).

The Bench of Justices Dr Dhananjay Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta allowed resumption of the first phase of construction of the new airport, lifting the stay on the environment clearance. 

It also accepted the undertaking of the concessionaire to adopt a zeero carbon programme both in construction and operation of the airport.

The 65-page judgment comes on the basis of the EAC report, after a year when the apex court had suspended all construction activities for the greenfield project, ordering status quo in the case.

Hanuman Laxman Aroskar and Federation of Rainbow Warriors had filed the petition in the top court after the National Green Tribunal disallowed their prayer to stop cutting of an estimated 55,000 trees and approved the environment clearance. Their contention was that the ecology of the Western Ghats will be hit by the new airport.

On 18 January 2019, the SC had ordered the Goa government and GMR Goa International Airport Ltd (GGIAL), who won the contract to build and run the airport, to maintain status quo on the under-construction airport due to environmental impact.

The Court took on record the additional conditions imposed by the EAC on April 23, 2019, along with its original conditions dated October 28, 2015. Incorporating these conditions in the judgment, the Court directed the project proponents to advertise the environment clearance in at least two widely circulated newspapers, including one in vernacular language.

Conditions imposed in the revised assessment of the EAC on 23 April 2019 include certificate that the project does not fall in the notified eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), installation of noise, air and water quality monitoring and preservation, energy conservation measures, waste management, development of a green belt over entire periphery of the airport, and public hearing on human health issues.

The Court also appointed the Delhi-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to oversee compliance with the directions cumulatively issued by the court, requiring the project proponent to bear the costs, expenses and fees of NEERI.

Construction of phase 1 of the airport was underway when the top court had given its order. As per the concession agreement with GMR Airports Ltd, the airport was to be commissioned by September 2020.

The project has a provision for two runways. However, it was planned that only one runway with a taxiway was to be constructed initially and the second runway will be built based on the traffic flow at the proposed airport spread over 2,271 acres in Pernem at Mopa.

In March 2019, the SC had refused to lift its stay on the illegal felling of trees, asking the EAC to revisit the recommendations it had given for the grant of environmental clearance to the project. The SC had barred any other court or tribunal from accepting fresh petitions in the case, until EAC submitted its report.

The two petitioners got the stay from the SC over the illegal felling of 55,000 trees at Mopa, arguing that the environment impact assessment (EIA) report by the national green tribunal only mentioned the bushes on the airport site.

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