The embattled Lavasa Corporation and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) against sparred on Tuesday as the ministry upheld its earlier 'stop work' after a court-ordered review of facts.
In response, Lavasa said that contrary to accusations, it had improved the ecology of the area which had been "denuded" by slash and burn agriculturists. The firm also accused the ministry of not checking facts for itself and relying on reports by environmental activists.
"The Ministry of Environment and Forests interim order is made without objective verification and physical site assessment which subverts the basic tenancy of natural justice. It simply repeats the unsubstantiated and generic claims made by Medha Patkar through National Alliance of People's Movements," the Corporation said in its detailed response to the interim order.
The MoEF, however, said Lavasa could make no new points in its defence during the hearing and the presentation of documents over the last four days.
"These additional submissions are reiterative in nature.. The ministry is ready to provide hearing on 22nd December to Lavasa Corporation to consider the entire case. It is expected that an order could be passed on or before 31st December, provided Lavasa co-operates and files all necessary documents," the new order, signed by Adviser Dr Nalini Bhat, stated.
The environmentalists, led by rights activist Medha Patkar, painted the project as a danger to the environment of the project area itself as well as to people living nearby and to the city of Pune.
Her National Alliance of People's Movements claimed that is blasting and quarrying hillsides, diverting water-bodies and cutting down forests and replacing them with 'concrete jungles'. The activists also alleged that the stone crushing activity is polluting the entire region.
Another intervener in the Court case, BG Ahuja, claimed that Lavasa project will hijack nearly 1,031 million cubic feet of water meant for Pune city and had got a 20-km stretch of river 'leaded out' in its favor from the Maharashtra Krishna Vallye Development Corporation. It claimed that the Corporation had no right to lease it out to Lavasa.
The ministry said the submissions seemed to substantiate that "serious issues emerge" from the project. It also reiterated its original point that the project proponents did not re-obtain their environmental clearance in 2004 after a change in law made early-stage projects liable to doing so.
Lavasa disputed all the points, including the accusation that hill-slopes are being destroyed. "The development is concentrated in the flat or gently sloping areas of the town centre. Such a development limits the construction on slopes and minimizes the requirement of cutting of slopes. The development has been carried out only within the slopes upto 1:3 which is permitted within the hill-station regulations," it pointed out.
It also dismissed the charge that it is destroying forests and claimed that it has actually increased the forest cover by showing satellite images from 2002 and 2009.
"The earlier denuded state of the region wherein the project falls was shown and the positive impact on the biodiversity due to our development inititaives was also shown vide Before and After photographs," it said.