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Jurisdictions questioned,green panel members,chairman quit

SEIAA chairman P M A Hakeem says it was an ‘unpleasant experience’

Written by MANASI PHADKE | Mumbai |
Updated: March 14, 2014 12:16:09 pm

Three months ago,six members and chairman of the state environment appraisal committees that give the final green nod to government as well as private projects,such as real estate and information technology,in Maharashtra quit protesting the questioning of their jurisdictions.

P M A Hakeem,a retired senior bureaucrat,resigned as chairman of the three-member State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) after holding the last meeting on July 4 and 5. He said it was an “unpleasant experience” but declined to comment further.

A senior official said Hakeem,known to be an upright man,was put off when certain decisions taken by the committee under his chairmanship were questioned in the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

“There was a problem with the Orchid Crown project in Prabhadevi by DB Group firm Real Gem Buildtech. The NGT overruled the environment committee. The decisions and jurisdiction of Hakeem were challenged. It was a bitter experience for him,” the official said.

The Rs 579-crore project,as per the environment department,was first considered by the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) in 2010. Hakeem was its chairman then. The SEAC refused to recommend the project for environment clearance saying the construction was 15.8 times more than the plot area and asked the developer to drastically reduce the construction area.

In the meetings that followed,the SEAC rejected the proposal on two occasions saying despite clear instructions to stop work,the company went ahead with the construction.

When the SEIAA considered the proposal,the project proponent sought environment clearance saying the company had followed SEAC instructions. By then,Hakeem had been appointed chairman of the SEIAA.

The authority decided to defer a final decision on the project after the developer received a notice from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to show cause why the commencement certificate granted to it for public parking should not be cancelled.

The company then approached the NGT,which said in an order dated February 17,2012,“According to the learned counsel for the appellant,there was no plausible reason for withholding consideration of environment clearance,since the showcause notice issued by the BMC does not come in the way of the respondent.”

In its next meeting in February 2012,SEIAA granted approval noting that the project proponent had reduced the construction area by about 13 per cent. The number of basements was reduced from 3 to 2,and that of tenements and parking spaces was reduced too.

“The main issue was the number of basements. When the Hakeem-led committee appraised the project,the developer agreed to reduce the number of basements from three to two but didn’t. The developer then went to the NGT seeking permission for three basements,” the senior official said.

An NGT order dated October 3,2012,said the BMC,as per the development control rules,had granted permission for construction of three basements and the company had already constructed three basements. It said,“The impugned order does not reflect whether environment clearance for three basements was rejected on the ground of adverse environmental impact. In fact,we find no environmental issue is involved in the matter.”

Asking the state authority to reconsider the project,the NGT said,“Considering the fact that the impugned order does not reflect rejection of request of the appellant on the ground of environmental damage and the same has been rejected only because of the earlier statement of the appellant that he would reduce three basements to two,we deem it proper to hold that the impugned order suffers from deficiency because the relevant adverse impact on environment is not the reason for rejection of the request.”

A DB spokesperson said,“Since the matter is pending consideration before the SEIAA as per the order passed by the NGT,it would not be appropriate for us to comment in the media on this subject. Our position has been fully explained before the NGT and the SEIAA and we believe we will get the necessary approval from the authorities as we are in compliance with the applicable law/regulations.”

Similarly,six members of the SEAC,including chairman S Devotta,also quit. The last meeting of the committee that appraises all projects but those in the Mumbai metropolitan region was from July 1 to July 3.

The SEAC members resigned after an argument with the SEIAA. They refused to consider sand mining and stone quarrying proposals below one hectare,which the SEIAA said was against a Supreme Court order that all mining proposals from zero to five hectares should be appraised.

“We realised people were bringing proposals to maintain very small mines,as small as 0.3 hectares. We said it was not technically and economically feasible to maintain such small mines as per rules. So we passed a scientific judgment that we won’t consider proposals below one hectare,” said a member.

The member said the committee asked the state government to frame a policy for minor minerals.

“Neither were they setting policy guidelines nor were they allowing us to maintain the rule of no proposals below one hectare individually. Later,we found out that though the proposals were pending with us,the SEIAA had started clearing them.” A senior government official,however,said the SEAC members resigned on a “very flimsy” ground.

“They had a major problem with the shifting of the venue for SEAC meetings to Mahape from Sion. They also had an issue with the honorarium,” the official said.

While state government officials said it was more convenient for the project proponents to reach Mahape as the committee was for considering proposals outside Mumbai,the members,who would come from different cities,said it was inconvenient.

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