National Green Tribunal: in an application against the violation of environmental norms by the Project Proponents (PPs), – Uttar Pradesh Aawas and Vikas Parishad (UPAVP), Prateek Realtors India Pvt. Ltd. , Apex Heights Pvt. Limited and Gaur & Sons India Pvt. Limited , the three Judge Bench of Adarsh Kumar Goel (Chairperson), Sudhir Agarwal (Judicial Member), and Dr. A. Senthil Vel (Expert Member), ordered compensation of Rs. 50 crores for restoration of the environment.
In the matter at hand, the PPs- UPAVP, Prateek Realtors India Pvt. Ltd, Apex Heights Pvt. Limited and Gaur & Sons India Pvt. Limited, while developing housing projects in Ghaziabad, violated certain environmental norms relating to inadequate plantations and sewage treatment plants, resulting in damage to the environment and public health.
Whether there are any violations, extent of violations and how accountability of the PPs is determined and what remedial measures should be taken?
On 06.12.2022, the Tribunal sought a factual report in the matter from a Joint Committee comprising State Pollution Control Board (‘PCB') and District Magistrate, Ghaziabad.
Based on the Joint Committee report the Tribunal noted that UPAVP had developed Siddharth Vihar Yojna, Ghaziabad and allotted plots to private promoters for housing projects including Prateek Realtors India Pvt. Ltd, Apex Heights Pvt. Limited and Gaur & Sons India Pvt. Limited,. The Tribunal also found that there were violations which need to be remedied and accountability needs to be fixed on basis of polluter pays principles and amount of compensation needs to be duly utilised for restoration of environment.
Analysis and Observations:
The Tribunal noted that UPAVP had constructed and sold 1844 EWS homes and none of the said schemes had captive Sewage Treatment Plans (‘STPs') and sewage was being carried by trunk sewer line and disposed of in open areas. Sewer line laid by UPAVP was not connected to terminal STP which is still under construction. This was resulting in water logging. Before handing over the project to the Nagar Nigam, it was mandatory for it to set up requisite sewage treatment facility, which was not done. There were also violations about adequacy of green belt and uncontrolled dust from roads.
In respect of Prateek Realtors India Pvt. Ltd, the Tribunal noted that area of the project is 1.54 lac sq. meters with 3008 units and the green belt did not cover the area in terms of Environmental Clearance (‘EC').
The Tribunal noted that Gaur project, was operationalized without requisite completion certificate. Possession was given and 550 families were residing. The STP was found non-operational which is in violation of EC conditions and the green belt is not in terms of EC.
The Tribunal also found Apex Heights Pvt Ltd was in violation of certain norms as the STPs were set up by them and were operational at the time of inspection in January 2023, however, it was not known whether at that time of occupation by the inhabitants, STPs were in operation. Occupation, as per the Joint Committee report, was in February 2021, without the completion certificate.
Thus, the Tribunal considered it appropriate to levy a hefty compensation considering the nature of serious environmental violations. The Tribunal said that the compensation must be levied on the principle of ‘Restitution'.
The Tribunal said that considering the magnitude of the project and violations — inadequacy of green belt, absence of sewage treatment, not preventing dust pollution, the estimated cost of restoration was not less than Rs. 20 crores. The cost of restoring damage to the environment was estimated at minimum of Rs. 10 crores each for the PPs. The Tribunal said that the projects were big in size with turnover of more than Rs.500 crore each, thus, total estimated cost of restoration of Rs. 50 crores to be deposited with the State PCB.
The Tribunal ordered that the compensation amount to be utilised for restoration of environment as per action plan to be prepared by Central Pollution Control Board, State PCB and District Magistrate with association of concerned stakeholders including the PPs.
[Sanjeev Kumar v. Uttar Pradesh Pollution Board, Original Application No.884/2022, Order Dated: 03-05-2023]