THE Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, comprising Justice Ravi Deshpande and Justice Amit Borkar, on Tuesday issued notices to the Maharashtra government through its chief secretary, Revenue department, and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), over a PIL challenging the public hearings by MPCB using Zoom app for grant of environmental clearance for sand mining projects.
According to petitioner Sudhir Paliwal, convenor of Vidarbha Environment Action Group (VEAG), the public hearings are being conducted all over Maharashtra on Zoom app during the lockdown to prevent the affected persons from rural areas to raise their objections. Counsel for the petitioner, Tushar Mandlekar, argued that the Zoom hearings were illegal as they violate EIA Notification 2006 issued under Environmental Rules 1986.
“Widest possible participation of affected persons and stakeholders is not possible on Zoom app as most of the rural persons are not literate and are not techno-savvy to be able to use the app,” Mandalekar said.
It was argued that the Ministry of Home Affairs has already issued an advisory to all state governments on April 16 that official working of government should not be done on Zoom app as it was unsafe. In spite of such an advisory and in spite of the inability expressed by many district collectors, the additional secretary, Revenue department, has issued a notification on April 27 to conduct the public hearing on Zoom app. Mandalekar said, “A large number of citizens residing in rural areas will lose their fundamental right to raise objection.”
It was argued that state government has no powers to frame any protocol or guidelines or rules as the power to frame rules related to public hearing rests with the central government under the Environment Protection Act 1986.
The petitioner also pointed out that the public hearing needs to be cancelled immediately as the central government and state government have prohibited assembly of people during lockdown.
After hearing the petitioner, the court issued notices to respondents and directed them to file the reply before June 30, but observed that the Zoom hearings may continue, subject to the result of the petition.
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