The Tamil Nadu Government has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the National Green Tribunal (NGT) whereby the tribunal closed suo motu proceedings on forming a committee for spot inspection to find out whether Karnataka has made preparation to build a reservoir at Mekedatu without getting environmental clearance.
On May 21, the NGT Southern Zone took suo motu proceedings by which it appointed a Joint Committee comprising of (1) a Senior Member from the Integrated Regional Office, Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, (MoEF&CC) Bangalore, (2) a Senior Officer from the Cauvery Water Management Authority, (3) a Senior Officer from the Cauvery Neeravari Nigam Limited and (4) a Senior Officer from the Forest Department not below the rank of Additional Conservator of Forest, State of Karnataka, to ascertain the genuineness of the allegations made in the newspaper report, published under the caption “Construction Activity near proposed Mekedatu dam evokes unease in TN” and directed to submit its report on or before 05.07.2021.
Later on June 9, the State of Karnataka filed a Review Application before NGT (Southern Zone) seeking recall of order dated 21.05.2021 and consequently close the proceedings. The NGT on June 17, closed the suo motu proceedings while disposing of the suo motu and review application.
According to the Appeal in the Top Court, Tamil Nadu government has alleged that NGT without recording any reasons as contemplated in Rule 22(2) of Rules, 2011 proceeded to dispose off, despite the order under review was passed by the NGT Southern Bench. Further, it failed to grant an opportunity to the Appellant to file its reply to the said application and proceeded to dispose of the same on the 1st day of hearing held on 17.06.2021.
The NGT Principal Bench failed to consider that the Application pending adjudication relates to the challenge to the preparation of Detailed Project Report for Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir Cum Drinking Water Project, while, the issue raised in the Original Application was with regard to taking up road laying work without taking any Forest and Environment Clearances under the Forest Conservation Act, 2003 and Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 and the impact on the nearby Reserve Forests and Wildlife Sanctuaries, said the appeal.
It is stated that the project involves a total of 5252.40 Ha out of which 4996 ha is under submergence (3181.9 Ha of Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, 1869.5 ha of Reserve Forest, and 201 Ha of Revenue land) and the remaining 256.40 ha is required for other construction activities. The State of Karnataka in the documents filed before NGT Southern Zone Bench placed on record several documents indicating the steps taken by it which inter-alia included a letter to Dy. Commissioner, Mandya District to allocate the identified lands for undertaking Compensatory Afforestation towards a diversion of forest land for the Project.
The news report referred to the steps being taken and material collected near the proposed project area which is in reserve forests and sanctuaries and that no sanctions or clearances have been obtained by the project authorities. By the impugned order, the NGT failed to consider that the Miscellaneous Application pending adjudication before the Top Court is related to the preparation of Detailed Project Report for Mekedatu Balancing Reservoir Cum Drinking Water Project. However, the issue raised in the Original Application was with regard to the lack of Forest Clearances and Environment Clearances under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 as well as the EIA Notification, 2006 and the impact on the nearby Reserve Forests and Wildlife Sanctuaries.
The NGT which is established to ensure effective environmental protection and conservation of forest has a power coupled with duty to ensure that the project proponent does not violate the mandate and not to undertake any work without getting prior approvals from the concerned authorities. In the present case, NGT Southern Bench by its order dated 21.05.2021 took cognizance and directed constitution of a committee to consider whether any activity has been undertaken by the project proponent of the State of Karnataka.
It is submitted that the order is without jurisdiction and contrary to the express mandate of the Act and Rules 2011, ought not to have interfered with the order dated 21.05.2021 and in any event, ought to have afforded an opportunity to the Appellant and directed the matter to be placed before Southern Bench of NGT which was in seizure of the matter.
It is further submitted that the NGT failed to consider the environmental damage likely to be caused by the continuation of the construction works which involves large extent of Reserve Forests and Wildlife Sanctuaries and the Tribunal acted in contravention of the object of the establishment of Tribunal, which is to ensure effective environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
“Hon’ble Tribunal failed to consider that prior environmental clearance is mandatory for projects under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, and by the State of Karnataka’s own admission, the project has not received the requisite clearances,” reads the appeal.