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We've violated green laws, confess Maharashtra and Karnataka governments

Friday, 8 August 2014 - 6:05am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Maharashtra and Karnataka governments have accepted on affidavit that they violated the Environment Protection Act (EPA) 1986 and EIA notification. Violations involve taking up work before seeking environmental clearance (EC) and both governments have promised on affidavit that this will not be repeated. This came to light following South Asia Network for Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP) writing to the Ministry of Environment and Forests' (MoEF) Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on river valley projects about the violations.

SANDRP monitors EC process of hydropower, irrigation and river valley projects, and has come across several proposals from governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka (among others) wherein the Water Resource Departments seek EC from the MoEF, even as work on the said projects is well underway, violating the EPA (1986) and the EIA notification.

The next EAC meeting will consider a proposal from Maharashtra worth nearly Rs. 5,000 crores for Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation scheme, which plans to divert 23.66 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Ujani dam to irrigate over 1,00,000 hectares of land in Beed and Osmanabad districts. Ironically, work on Krishna-Marathwada scheme is well-advanced, and the state has already spent nearly Rs 500 crores on it, without clearances!

SANDRP raised this with the EAC on Dec 5, 2013, before the 70th meeting of EAC that was held on Dec 10-11, 2013. EAC had than asked the Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation (GMIDC) to stop all on-going work on the project and demanded an affidavit that no work will start without EC and EIA Notification and EPA will not be violated further with a Board resolution to this effect.

In response, as per documents with dna, in July 2014, the governing council of GMIDC, chaired by the State Water Resource Minister and Chairperson of GMIDC Sunil Tatkare passed a resolution, that “There will not be any recurrence of violation.” The superintending engineer, Osmanabad irrigation circle too signed an affidavit with an undertaking that all work on the project will be stopped till EC is secured.

Similarly, Sonthi Lift Irrigation Project from Karnataka was deliberated for clearance in the presence of officials from Karnataka, when the project was almost complete on ground. On SANDRP’s complaint EAC issued notice to Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited. “But the EAC or MoEF did not take strong action against the proponent and in fact recommended Stage 1 Clearance for the project (April 2014) which is already nearing completion. This decision of EAC was without justification or legal mandate,” points out Parineeta Dandekar of SANDRP.

Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited’s (KKNL) Shiggaon Lift Irrigation Project too will be discussed during the upcoming 76th EAC meeting. The project was discussed in the EAC on September 2013, when it was formally inaugurated by Karnataka Chief Minister in November 2012 itself! In case of Shiggaon too, SANDRP pointed out the violations to the EAC, MoEF, which then issued a notice to the KKNL to file an affidavit about the violation and an undertaking to stop work and not resume it unless EC is granted. The KKNL has filed an affidavit stating “there will be no recurrence of violations”, thus accepting preset violations.

In case of Maharashtra the recent CAG report 2014 gave a list of 249 projects that do not have EC and more than 89 do not have FC, violating the Forest Conservation Act (1980), causing a loss of thousands of crores to the state. SANDRP has made submissions about many such projects undertaken by WRD, Maharashtra without requisite clearances. Some of these include Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme in Solapur, Lower Tapi Irrigation Project in Jalgaon and over 10 Lift Irrigation schemes based on Ujani Dam. MoEF has not taken any action for projects which do not approach the EAC for clearances, even when presented with evidence of violations, thus ignoring blatant violations.

Dandekar told dna, “EC is critical from environmental and social point of view and it also acts as a third-party expert appraisal. The EAC is supposed to look not only at the environmental and social impacts of the project, but also assesses overall optimality, feasibility and justification, hydrologic soundness of the project, and also the veracity of the supposed benefits of the project. In a state like Maharashtra that has seen huge scams and corruption in irrigation projects, such a third party appraisal is critical from environment as well as larger public welfare point of view.”

What The Law Says

MOEF’s Office Memorandum dated Dec 12, 2012 states:  “The state government concerned will need to initiate credible action on the violation by invoking powers under Section 19 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for taking necessary legal action under Section 15 of the Act for the period for which the violation has taken place and evidence provided to MoEF of the credible action taken.” 

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