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Polavaram project: Environmental clearance quashed
In a significant development the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) by its order dated December 19, 2007 has quashed the environmental clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests to the Polavaram project.
IN A significant development, the National Environmental Appellate Authority (NEAA) by its order dated December 19, 2007 has quashed the environmental clearance granted by the ministry of Environment and Forests to the Polavaram Multipurpose project. This is a prestigious irrigation project of the Rajasekhara Reddy government in Andhra Pradesh, taken up as part of its `Jala Yagnam’ programme. This involves a capital outlay of over Rs 9,000 crores and includes a hydel power component of 960 MW as well as irrigation facilities.
 
However, environmental activists have been opposing the project fearing it will displace close to 2 lakh persons in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chattisgarh. Even the Orissa and Chhattisgarh governments have conveyed their reservations about the project and did not attend the high-level conference of chief ministers of these three states, convened by the Union Water Resources Minister.
 
The project was opposed on grounds of inadequate EIA; also, no public hearing was conducted in the states of Orissa and Chattisgarh despite the fact that 3000 families were to be affected by the proposed construction. During the hearing both the states contended that environmental clearance was granted by the ministry of Environment without considering the opinion of the states, though they were affected.
 
According to the order of the NEAA “It is evident that no public hearing was conducted in the affected areas of Orissa and Chattisgarh. Neither did the affected persons have any access to the executive summary of the project in the notified place nor did they have any opportunity to participate in public hearing and express their view on the impact on the environment of the area…the question here is not one of majority or minority, but it relates to the issue of enabling all the affected people to express their view / opinion or comment, whether they reside in one particular state or two or more states".
 
The NEAA in its order states, "The appeal is partially allowed to the extent that the impugned Environment Clearance order No J -12011/74/2005-IA I dated 25-10-2005 issued by Respondent 1 (MoEF, GoI) is quashed on the grounds that the impugned order was passed without taking into consideration the public hearing which by itself was incomplete as it was not conducted in the affected areas of Orissa and Chhattisgarh resulting in denial of access to information and opportunities to the affected people to express their views/opinion etc. on the environmental impact of the project and consequential violation of principles of natural justice”
 
The appeal against the clearance was filed by Dr R Sreedhar of the Academy for Mountain Environics and represented by Ritwick Dutta, Advocate. The NEAA is the only competent authority set up by Parliament through an Act to hear appeals from aggrieved/affected persons against the grant of environmental clearances by the ministry of Environment and Forests to different projects across the country.
 
The NEAA order was passed by a bench, which comprised of JC Kala, Dr I.V Manivannan and Kaushlendra Prasad. According to Ritwick Dutta, the counsel for the Academy for Mountain Environics and coordinator of the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), “this is the first instance in the ten years of working of the NEAA that an environmental clearance granted by the MoEF has been quashed and therefore is truly a historic decision”.
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