Updated: October 21, 2020 12:03:30 pm
Declaring the environmental clearance (EC) granted to the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation system in Telangana as ex post facto (retroactive, after it is done) and illegal, the National Green Tribunal has directed the Telangana government to stop all work, except the drinking water component of the project, until further orders.
The Tribunal’s principal bench in New Delhi also directed the state government to obtain forest clearance before moving ahead with the project. The Kaleshwaram Multipurpose Lift Irrigation Project, the world’s largest irrigation and drinking water system, was inaugurated last year by Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. It is meant to provide water for drinking and irrigation to nearly 45 lakh acres in 20 of 31 districts of Telangana, apart from Hyderabad and Secunderabad.
The environmental clearance, granted to the project in Karimnagar district on December 22, 2017 by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, was cancelled by the NGT on October 12 – it was uploaded Tuesday — on a petition by a farmer from Siddipet district who said he was directly affected by the project.
The petition, filed on February 16, 2018, stated that while the Kaleshwaram Project was a lift irrigation system, the state government wrongly claimed, until the grant of environmental clearance, that the project was not for lift irrigation, but only for drinking water supply.
“The application for EC (environmental clearance) was made in January 2017. EC was granted in December 2017, but before that substantial work had already been undertaken. Thus, according to the appellant, the impugned EC was ex post facto, in violation of EIA Notification, 2006,’’ the NGT order stated.
The petitioner, in his plea, stated: “Infrastructure was being constructed prior to applying for environmental clearance. The tenders floated for the project show that the infrastructure was being constructed for a major irrigation project to improve agricultural productivity in the upland areas of Telangana. The lift irrigation scheme involves submergence of approximately 32,000 hectares of land, 3211.2974 hectares of forest land in Telangana and approximately 302 hectares of land, including some forest land in Maharashtra as per pre-feasibility report. The two states formed an Inter State Board for Joint Irrigation Projects, of which one of the projects was Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation System.’’
The Tribunal, in its order, stated: “Apart from the allegation of EC being given after substantial work of the project was completed, further challenge by the appellant is on the ground that the EC was granted without application of mind, overlooking the procedural irregularities as well as environmental aspects.”
“The project, as proposed, underwent change by increase in capacity and inclusion of Mission Bhagiratha to provide drinking water to Hyderabad and certain villages of Telangana but no fresh scoping was done. The pre-feasibility report submitted in January, 2017 and draft of EIA report submitted in July, 2017 did not mention the Mission Bhagiratha which involved interlinking of the two projects. Feasibility of the changed project was never evaluated while granting EC. Construction of pump houses started in February, 2017,’’ the order stated.
The Tribunal had issued notices to the respondents on February 19, 2018. The Telangana government submitted that the project was conceived by the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh which also involved water supply to Hyderabad City and other places en route Hyderabad. Mission Bhagiratha was a part of the project to remedy drought conditions in the area.
The project was earlier called Dr B R Ambedkar Pranahita Chevella Sujala Sravanthi Project, a multipurpose project, involving the States of Maharashtra and Telangana.
The Tribunal observed that there were two legal issues confronting Telangana. “The first is for Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project activity which is designed, conceived and sought to be implemented as a ‘Lift Irrigation Project’. It is primarily an irrigation project though of course a portion of water that may be harnessed is proposed to be utilized to supply drinking water to districts en route Hyderabad and Hyderabad City. That does not take away the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project out of the Entry 1(c) of the EIA Notification, 2006, requiring prior Environmental Clearance.’’
The second aspect, the Tribunal said, is about Forest Clearance. Under Section 2 of Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Telangana cannot proceed with the project until requisite permissions are obtained.
The Tribunal said project contractor L&T was alleged to have cleared large areas of forest land for construction of quarters for its employees. The Tribunal directed that until the Telangana government obtains final forest clearance, it should not encroach upon the reserve forest nor fell even a single tree, and stop all work except the drinking water component.
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