The Union ministry of environment and Forests (MoEF) gives environmental clearances to huge infrastructure projects worth billions of rupees but invariably fails to inform people, who could be affected from them. Rapping the ministry for not doing so, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed MoEF to ‘make public’ information about such clearances within seven days of granting them not only on their website but also in their regional offices so that aggrieved parties, if needed, can appeal against it.
NGT’s directions came while hearing a case related to EC granted to NJC Hydro Power Limited for construction of a 780 MW Naymjang Chhu Hydroelectric Project in sensitive Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
People, who appealed against the EC, was a Tawang-based organisation that consists people of Monpa indigenous community, who advocate environmentally and culturally sensitive development in the ecologically and geologically fragile, seismically active and culturally sensitive Mon-Tawang region of the state.
Hearing the case, a bench of NGT led by it chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar, observed that “all is not well” with MoEF’s portal. The tribunal also noted that grievances related to availability of orders regarding environmental clearances on MoEF’s website “has been raised before”.
The NGT said it is “not only the administrative duty but a statutory obligation of the MoEF to place such orders in the public domain to ensure their accessibility to the public at large.” Thirty days is the time period limitation for filing appeals against such green clearances in case people are aggrieved with it.
It also took to task the company in this case, for “miserably” failing to comply with its statutory obligation of publishing the information regarding EC in local newspapers.
The tribunal said “to serve the ends of justice better and in the larger public interest”, MoEF shall, within “seven days” from the date of passing of the order of EC, upload it on its website.
“It shall be the duty of the MoEF to ensure that immediately upon its uploading the same should be made accessible and can be downloaded without any delay or impediment. It would remain so uploaded on the website for a period of at least 90 days,” the bench ordered.
It also directed the environment ministry to maintain a public notice board in its premises including its regional offices where public is permitted without hindrance and display the “complete” EC order for a period of 30 days.
The tribunal condoned the delay in filing the appeal and admitted the case for hearing.
It also directed such companies, who are getting ECs, to properly fulfill their obligation of publishing EC order alongwith environmental conditions and safeguards in two local newspapers of the district or State where the project is located.
It also asked such companies to permanently maintain such information on their website.It further directed such companies to submit the copies of EC to the government of that State (Where project is located), heads of the local bodies, panchayats and municipal bodies of that district.
Noting the Central Information Commission (CIC) order to MoEF regarding correcting its website, NGT directed the ministry to ensure that its “website is always in working order” and “be positively accessible to the public at large”.