The Gujarat government’s ambitious ‘Statue of Unity’ project now faces a legal hurdle as a group of activists from Gujarat has moved the National Green Tribunal (NGT), demanding a stay on the construction of the project, claiming that it does not have environmental clearance.
The construction for the 180-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on an island in the middle of Narmada river started November last year.
A group of ten activists from Gujarat have moved the Western Bench of NGT situated in Pune through lawyers Aseem Sarode and Alka Babaladi, pleading that the project was “illegal” as it has failed to take the required clearance.
They have demanded that no further construction at the site be allowed till the permission is granted.
A bench of justices V R Kingaonkar and expert member Ajay Deshpande admitted the petition and, after hearing the counsel of applicants, issued notice to the respondents asking for their say in the matter. Among the respondents are Chairman, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET), Chairman, Managing Director, SSNNL, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Larsen & Toubro Limited, and Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
In the petition, the activists claim that despite repeated communications with the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL), the body or the state government did not furnish any information pertaining to the clearances taken by the project. However, in a response to an RTI application in July 2014, the SSNNL said that the project did not require environment clearance, therefore, the environment impact assessment and social impact assessment need not be carried out for the the project.
“Environment clearance is required for the Statue of Unity Project. The project includes the principal statue, to be constructed over 20,000 square metres of area and Shreshtha Bharat Bhawan to be constructed over 1,00,000 sq metres of area. Therefore, the activity area of the project is much higher than the threshold of 20,000 sq metres prescribed under the schedule to the Environmental Impact Assessment, Notification 2006. SSNNL does not have any authority to decide by itself if the project requires environmental clearance or not,” reads the petition.
As per the petition, clearance is also required for the Statue of Unity as it is within 10-km distance of the Shoolpaneshwar Sanctuary, which is notified under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
“The project also requires construction on a massive scale on the river bed of River Narmada. The project is being constructed on the wetlands of River Narmada. Allowing the project to continue will result in irreversible damage to the wetlands of River Narmada which are sought to be protected by the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010,” reads the petition, adding that despite all these threats, there has been no environment impact assessment or social impact assessment done.
“This construction is bound to result in damage to the downstream river, its biodiversity, the people living downstream and their livelihoods. Further, the project is going to result in displacement of people from many villages, including that of tribals,” advocate Sarode said. The case will be heard next month.
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