Adopt ‘adarsh’ policies, Mr Ramesh, ad hoc ones will not do

Why didn’t your ministry stop the controversial building project in 2003 itself?

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | January 17, 2011




Environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh loves publicity, more so if it comes free. It would, therefore, have been naïve not to expect him to issue a demolition notice to the Adarsh housing society which he has done now.

Do bask in glory, Mr Ramesh, but please answer a few questions. The first question is: Why this notice to the Adarsh society now? The 31-storey building that you think deserves to be completely demolished for “egregious violation” of environment laws, got the occupation certificate on September 16, 2010. Which means, the construction activities have already been completed for people to move in.

Presumably, construction began after the Adarsh society applied for environment clearance from your ministry in 2003. Your ministry wrote back on March 11, 2003 saying the appropriate clearing authority under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 1991 was the state government – rather the Maharashtra State Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA).
So, your ministry and MCZMA knew about the case way back in March 2003. Why did both of them go to sleep for the next seven years?

MCZMA has, in its deposition before your ministry, said it had issued notice to the Adarsh society on lack of environment clearance on November 3, 2009. Why did it take six years for it to do so?

The second question, therefore, is: What action do you propose to take against your ministry officials and those of the MCZMA?

The third question pertains to the violation of the CRZ notification of 1991 vis-à-vis section 3(2)(v) of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986 itself. As your communiqué mentions, this section “provides for ‘restriction of areas’ in which any industries, operations or process of class of industries, operations or processes shall not be carried out or shall be carried out subject to certain safeguards. Construction of buildings falls with the category of ‘process’ ”.

Find us one more individual, Mr Ramesh, who agrees with this interpretation of “process”.  Why is the language so vague and prone to misinterpretation? Is this deliberate or do you expect us to believe that the literacy level of your officials is so poor? No wonder the Adarsh society is protesting, arguing that it didn’t violate any the law as this section deals with industries, not housing societies.

The Adarsh society is also right in questioning the locus standi of MoEF, citing the ministry’s March 11, 2003 letter, which said the state government was the clearing authority. To which, your communiqué mentions that your ministry has clarified that the CRZ notification was amended on April 22, 2003 (a month later) withdrawing that power from the state government because of “misutilisation” of power. But you are silent on whether this amendment was communicated to the Adarsh society at that time and what action was taken to ensure that the amendment was followed by other applicants.

The Adarsh society is a fait accompli, Mr Ramesh, just as many other big-ticket projects that your ministry first cleared and then issued notices about violations of law when public outcry reached unmanageable levels - Lavasa project in Pune, Vedanta’s smelting and refinery plants in Orissa, Jindals’ thermal plants in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra, Lafarge’s mining in Meghalaya and so on. It would be naive again to expect that the Adarsh society would actually be demolished.

Get your act together, Mr Ramesh, and get right the vaguely worded laws, notifications and regulations and ask your men to act proactive, not reactive to public outcry.
 

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