A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel directed the Ministry of Jal Shakti to furnish the status report in the matter before November 25 by an e-mail.
The NGT has directed the Centre to submit a status report on a plea filed by the Akshardham Temple management seeking compliance of the tribunal’s 2016 order asking a committee to decide whether the expanded structure fell within the Yamuna floodplains. A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel directed the Ministry of Jal Shakti to furnish the status report in the matter before November 25 by an e-mail. “Needless to say that the principal committee is free to consider the plea as to the effect of expert committee report dated April 19, 2014, which has been accepted by this tribunal on January 13, 2015. We do not express any opinion on this aspect at this stage in view of the earlier order dated July 30, 2015 referring the matter to the principal committee,” the bench said.
The green panel had in 2015 quashed two office memoranda of the Environment Ministry dealing with the issue of clearances for major and minor projects, saying they suffered from infirmity of “lack of inherent jurisdiction and authority”. Taking into account its order, the tribunal had later slapped a fine of five per cent of the total cost incurred in the expansion of the temple complex, located on the Yamuna river bank along the National Highway 24. The Akshardham Temple management had approached the tribunal against the order and said when the construction of the temple was completed in 2005, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006 was not in force and thus there was no requirement for the environment clearance.
The bench had passed the order on a petition filed by environment activist Manoj Mishra alleging that the temple management had used one of these two memoranda to get a “post facto” clearance for expanding the complex on a proposed built-up area of 25,497 square metres. The petitioner, in his plea through advocate Rahul Choudhary, had said while the construction on the temple complex reportedly started in 2011, the environment clearance was granted by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority only in July 2013.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (BAPS) seeking compliance of the March 14, 2016 order of the NGT which had asked a principal committee constituted by it to decide whether the temple structure fell on the floodplains of Yamuna. The committee comprised Secretary, Water Resources, special invitee Shashi Shekhar, former secretary of Water Resources, vice chairman, DDA, commissioners of all corporations and others.
The BAPS contended that the “validity of construction was beyond any controversy to the effect that the area was not a part of the floodplain” and that an expert committee constituted by the tribunal had recommended that the construction was valid. The NGT said it is not clear as to what view the principal committee took in pursuance of its order and it can go into the issue filed by BAPS after knowing the status.