The Maharashtra and Karnataka governments have accepted on affidavit that they have violated the Environment Protection Act 1986 and EIA Notification. The violations have happened in taking up the work even before seeking environmental clearance and both governments have promised on affidavit that this will not be repeated. This has come to light following SANDRP writing to the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects about the violations.
SANDRP monitors Environmental clearance (EC) process of hydropower, irrigation and river valley projects, and has come across several proposals from Government of Maharashtra and Government of Karnataka (& others) wherein the Water Resource Departments seek Environmental clearance from the MoEF, even as work on the said projects is well underway on ground, violating the Environment Protection Act (1986) and the EIA Notification.
There may be several such projects from other states too which are violating Environment Laws, but the MoEF does not seem to have the capacity to monitor such violations.
The next meeting of the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Projects will consider a proposal from Maharashtra worth nearly Rs. 5000 Crores for Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation scheme, which plans to divert 23.66 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Ujani Dam to irrigate over 100,000 hectares of land in Beed and Osmanabad districts. Ironically, work on Krishna Marathwada scheme is well-advanced, and the State has already spent nearly Rs 500 crores on it, without clearances. SANDRP had put these facts in front of the EAC on Dec 5, 2013, before the 70th meeting of EAC that was held on Dec 10-11, 2013. EAC had then asked the Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation (GMIDC) to stop all on going work on the project and demanded an affidavit that no work will start without EC and that the EIA Notification and EPA will not be violated further. It also demanded a Board resolution to this effect.
In response, as per documents with SANDRP, in July 2014, the Governing Council of GMIDC, chaired by the State Water Resource Minister Shri Sunil Tatkare and Chairperson of GMIDC passed a resolution, that “There will not be any recurrence of violation”. The Superintending Engineer, Osmanabad Irrigation Circle has also signed an affidavit with an undertaking that all work on the project is stopped unless EC is secured.
Similarly, Sonthi Lift Irrigation Project from Karnataka was deliberated for clearance in the presence of officials from Karnataka, when the project was almost complete on ground. SANDRP brought this to the notice of the EAC which then issued notice to Krishna Bhagya Jal Nigam Limited. The EAC or MoEF did not take strong action against the proponent and in fact recommended Stage 1 Clearance for the project (April 2014) which is already nearing completion. This decision of EAC was without justification or legal mandate.
Karnataka Neeravari Nigam Limited’s (KKNL) Shiggaon Lift Irrigation Project too will be discussed during the upcoming 76th EAC meeting. The project was discussed in the EAC on September 2013, when as it was formally inaugurated by Karnataka CM in November 2012 itself! In case of Shiggaon too, SANDRP pointed out the violations to the EAC, MoEF, which them issued a notice to the KKNL to file an affidavit about the violation and an undertaking to stop work and not resume it unless EC is granted. The KKNL has filed an affidavit stating “there will be no recurrence of violations”, thus accepting preset violations.
Similar violations of EPA (1986) and EIA Notification (2006) have occurred in case of Singtalur Lift Irrigation scheme in Karnataka. The state has also willfully escaped Environment Appraisal for Yettinahole/ Netravathi diversion project under fraudulent claims.
In case of Maharashtra, the recent CAG report 2014 gave a list of 249 projects that do not have EC and more than 89 do not have Forest Clearance (FC), violating the Forest Conservation Act (1980), causing a loss of thousands of crores to the state. SANDRP has made submissions about many such projects undertaken by WRD, Maharashtra without requisite clearances. Some of these include Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme in Solapur, Lower Tapi Irrigation Project in Jalgaon and over 10 Lift Irrigation schemes based on Ujani Dam. MoEF has not taken any action for projects which do not approach the EAC for clearances, even when presented with evidence of violations, thus ignoring blatant violations.
Environmental Clearances are critical from environmental and social point of view and they are also important as a third-party expert appraisal of the project. The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) of the MoEF is supposed to look not only at the environmental and social impacts of the project, but also assesses the overall optimality, feasibility and justification, hydrologic soundness of the project, and also the veracity of the supposed benefits of the project. This is also the only platform which includes a Public Hearing through which local communities have a chance to put forth their concerns, BEFORE the project comes up. Escaping Environmental Appraisal thus does not only mean flouting a legal requirement, but an absence of any third party appraisal of the project.
In a state like Maharashtra which has seen huge scams and corruption in irrigation projects, such a third party appraisal is critical from environment as well as larger public welfare point of view.
In this context it is pertinent to note that para 5 of the MOEF’s Office Memorandum dated 12.12.2012 dealing with violations states: “The State Government concerned will need to initiate credible action on the violation by invoking powers under Section 19 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 for taking necessary legal action under Section 15 of the Act for the period for which the violation has taken place and evidence provided to MoEF of the credible action taken.” (Emphasis added)
We are glad that the EAC took cognition of our submissions and refused to clear some projects, asking for affidavits on violations from Maharashtra and Karnataka governments on Krishna Marathawada LIS and Shiggaon LIS respectively. However, in case of Krishna Marathawada LIS in Maharashtra and Shiggaon Lift Irrigation Scheme in Karnataka, no action has been taken under section 19 or section 15, and hence we hope EAC and MoEF will ask for action as legally mandated. In any case, they have no mandate to consider these projects till such action is taken.
We hope rule of law will be followed in letter and spirit.
Parineeta Dandekar (email@example.com, 09860030742)
 76th EAC meeting will be held on 11th August in MoEF, Delhi