By LE Desk

New Delhi, June 10, 2021: The National Green Tribunal has formed a two-member committee to conduct functional audit of State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), Maharashtra, noting fundamental flaw in its working.

Complaints of illegalities in construction of housing projects in Maharashtra are frequently being made before the NGT resulting in defeating the statutory mandate of prior Environmental Clearance (EC) and directions of the Supreme Court, the tribunal said, news agency PTI reported.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel directed setting up of the committee comprising Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, nominated by the Secretary MoEF and the Chairman and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to conduct functional audit of SEIAA, Maharashtra, to find out how such frequent blatant violations are taking place and how the situation can be remedied.

“The Committee will be free to take assistance from any other expert/institution and interact with the stake-holders. This is necessary for protection of environment. If mechanically ex-post facto ECs are granted by SEIAA, the purpose of requiring prior EC will be defeated.

“The ”Precautionary” and ”Sustainable Development” principles considered in the judgments of the Supreme Court will be rendered nugatory. Precautions during the course of construction and compliance of conditions after constructions will be rendered difficult,” said the bench, also comprising Justice Sudhir Agarwal.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Maharashtra native Shashikant Vithal Kamble alleging illegalities in construction of a housing project by Key Stone Properties.

The NGT said grant of EC is not a mechanical exercise and it may be after application of any mind and granted only after evaluation of impact and efficacy of mitigation measures proposed.

“Conditions imposed must be faithfully observed and monitored. If there is any violation, steps must be taken for restoration of damage at the cost of the project proponent. The persons manning SEIAA who have acted illegally need to be made accountable in civil and criminal law.

“It is further surprising in the present case that in spite of order of State PCB to disconnect water and electricity, it is not clear how the project is functioning. Present status of compliance of environment norms in the project and remedial action against non-compliances also needs to be ascertained,” the bench said, reported PTI.

The NGT said that prima facie it appears that EC to the project has been granted in violation of law and without any application of mind.

“This is not for the first time we have come across this situation. Such allegations are frequent,” the NGT said.

The green panel said that apart from a committee for the conduct of functional audit of functioning of SEIAA in the matter of grant of ECs, there is need to conduct audit of compliance of environmental requirements in the project in question by an independent Expert Committee.

It also formed a four-member expert committee comprising nominees of MoEF, CPCB, IIT Bombay and Member Secretary, State PCB to conduct audit of the project in the petition before it.

The committee will be at liberty to take assistance from any other expert/institution. The CPCB and State PCB will be nodal agency for coordination and compliance. The Committee may visit the site and conduct the proceedings online, wherever necessary and also interact with the stakeholders.

The functional audit report as well as the Expert Committee report about status of compliance in the project may be furnished within three months by e-mail, the bench said.

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