Lavasa clears green hurdle

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 10 2011, 08:09am hrs
Almost a year after it slapped stop-work orders on Hindustan Construction Company's (HCC) flagship hill city project at Lavasa near Pune, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) on Wednesday cleared the project subject to the company meeting 47 conditions.

Construction on the first phase of 2,000 hectares was cleared on the condition that the project is approved by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and that various regulations are followed throughout construction.

Lavasa is the latest high-profile project to get conditional clearance after the Navi Mumbai airport and Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra, and the Posco steel plant and the ultra-mega power project in Orissa. This is also the first conditional clearance under current environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan.

Lavasa must submit an undertaking to restore the environment under a time-bound plan and keep 5% of the project expenditure with the state government as a guarantee in case the restoration doesnt take place.

The ministrys expert appraisal committee had recommended that conditional approval be granted only after punishing the company.

Following this, the ministry had asked Maharashtra to take action against Lavasa for illegal construction in the first phase. The ministry said construction had started in 681 hectares without clearance under the environmental impact assessment notification, 2006.

The environment clearance order is a positive development and comes as a reprieve for all our stakeholders including our investors, the villagers and Lavasa Corporation. The inordinate delay has led to a huge setback to the project and Lavasa Corporation has a challenging task at hand to bring the project up to speed and to meet our commitments, said a Lavasa spokesperson.

HCC has challenged the stop-work notice in the Bombay High Court. We continue to maintain that the MoEF notification, over which the entire controversy was based, is not applicable to Lavasa. The decision to enter into a constructive dialogue with MoEF to end the impasse was taken keeping in mind the interests of various stakeholders and the investments made till date, the spokesperson added.

The MPCB recently filed a criminal complaint against promoters and officials of the Ajit Gulabchand-promoted hill city project for violating the Environment Protection Act (EPA) 1986. The charges were filed after the Centre refused environmental clearance till all pre-conditions set by the state government were met. The five pre-conditions pertained to (1) credible action by the Maharashtra government against the violation under the EPA, (2) a written commitment that the violations would not be repeated, (3) a clear demarcation of no-development zones, (4) earmarking at least 5% of the project cost for corporate social responsibility and (5) Lavasa's commitment to creating an environment restoration fund.

The ministry said its decision to grant clearance comes after the Maharashtra government took credible action by filing a criminal complaint against the construction and development work that took place before the environment ministry's approval.

If it is found in future that any condition is in violation of EPA, legal action shall be initiated against the project proponent, the ministry said in a letter to the developer.

Wednesday's clearance came with 47 specific conditions in the construction phase, eight riders during the operations phase and two general conditions. The project will require a fresh appraisal in case of any changes in the project.