Mumbai: The Bombay High Court bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni on Friday stayed the operation of the office memorandum issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) giving ex-post facto permissions to development projects.
The bench was dealing with a PIL filed by NGO Vanshakti through senior counsel Venkatesh Dhond challenging the validity of the February 19 office memorandum issued by the MoEFCC granting ex-post facto clearance for development projects. The plea stated that the office memorandum was against the provisions of the Environment Protection Act and also the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules.
Notably, these laws provide for prior clearance for projects after exhaustive impact assessment studies and their approval by expert committees. But the present memorandum allegedly provides for a back door entry for developers in violation of the CRZ norms, the plea alleges.
Senior counsel Dhond highlighted before the bench that there has been no public notice of the office memorandum nor has there been any invitation of objections and suggestions. "It alters the CRZ in a manner unknown to law," he argued.
The judges accordingly stayed the office memorandum and ordered additional solicitor general Anil Singh to file the MoEFCC's response before the next date of hearing.
The bench would start hearing final arguments in the matter from June 30.
In its PIL, Vanshakti has said, "The memorandum is against Articles 14 and 21as before granting CRZ permissions for any project there has to be a proper application of mind based on a study into likely consequences of proposed activity on the environment."
"CRZ permissions can only be granted after various stages of decision making processes have been completed. It is an enquiry that has to be made at a time before setting up of the industry to determine that type of industry can be set up safely in a particular area," the plea reads.
Allowing for an ex-post facto clearance would essentially entirely bypass this most crucial stage and condone the operation of industrial activity without the grant of CRZ clearance. Furthermore, in absence of such permission there would be no conditions that would safeguard the environment, the petitioner NGO has argued.
"Moreover, if CRZ clearance was to be ultimately refused, irreparable harm would have been caused to the environment. Apart from being contrary to the CRZ rules and the Environment Protection Act, this office memorandum is also against sustainable development," the plea adds.