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Environment ministry warns Nirma of consequences for disregarding notice

Ministry reacts after Nirma VP said that the stop-work notice was not applicable as the ministry had no jurisdiction over the matter being heard in Supreme Court.

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The ministry of environment & forests, which last week issued a stop-work notice against a cement plant by the Nirma group in Gujarat, expressed its displeasure over the refusal to honor its notice by the Nirma group.

Nirma vice-president VN Desai had, over the weekend, written a strongly-worded letter against the ministry’s notice, calling the notice “illegal, unjust” and “against natural justice” and refused to obey the instruction.

The stop-work order was issued after local organisations raised a stink over diversion of wet lands - considered ecologically sensitive - for putting up a project that could be set up anywhere.

The ministry then instituted a review of its earlier clearance which found that crucial facts were withheld or not brought to the ministry’s notice at the time of issue of clearance in end of 2008, leading to the issue of the stop-work notice.

Nirma, founded 42 years ago by philanthropist Karsanbhai Patel, refused halt construction at its cement plant and called the notice illegal, since the matter was both being heard in the Supreme Court as well as the subject of separate legal proceedings.

"The assumption of jurisdiction thus is not only uncalled for, unwarranted and unjust, but is clearly in an attempt to overreach the order of the Suprem Court,” Desai said in his reply to the ministry’s letter, pointing out that the Supreme Court has already refused to issue a stop work order.

The ministry, however, denied that natural justice - under which both parties have to be heard - has been breached, though it did not address the issue of the matter being in the Supreme Court. It pointed out that Nirma was already given a chance to argue its point and will continue to get such opportunities.

"If you do not take immediate action.. we shall be constrained to take the said dereliction into account when deciding upon whether to make the closure permanent," the ministry said in its reply to Desai's letter.

Wetlands are the latest obsession for environment minister Jairam Ramesh. In December, he notified a separate law for protecting wetlands - swampy areas that cannot be classified as tidal region - and even set up a Central Wetland Regulatory Authority and various state bodies on the lines of the coastal regulatory mechanism.

According to the Wetlands Conservation and Management Notification of December, India has already lost one-third of its wetlands to over-fishing, industrial effluents and chemicals and siltation.

“This is the first time that legally enforceable rules are being notified for such eco-sensitive areas in our country and will go a long way in protecting our wetlands which are under severe threat,” Jairam Ramesh said at the time.

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