New Delhi, Dec 3 (PTI) The Supreme Court Tuesday dismissed an appeal by a Mumbai real estate developer against the NGT order imposing an interim penalty of Rs 1 crore for damaging environment for project expansion.
The National Green Tribunal in its February 11, 2019 order had directed Keystone Realtors, a company of Rustomjee group, to deposit Rs 1 crore and formed a 5-member expert committee for a study on the area and impact of expansion.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Ajay Rastogi said it cannot be disputed that as the size of the project increases, so does the magnitude of the project's environmental impact.
The top court said it cannot adopt an interpretation of the Environmental Impact Assessment notification which would permit, incremental or otherwise, project proponents to increase the construction area of a project without any oversight from the Expert Appraisal Committee.
'It is true that there may exist certain situations where the expansion sought by a project proponent is truly marginal or the environmental impact of such expansion is non-existent. However, it is not for this Court to lay down a bright-line test as to what constitutes a 'marginal' increase and what constitutes a material increase warranting a fresh Form 1 and scrutiny by the Expert Appraisal Committee,' the bench said.
It noted that as on the date, construction at the project site had already been completed.
'A core tenet underlying the entire scheme of the EIA Notification is that construction should not be executed until ample scientific evidence has been compiled so as to understand the true environmental impact of a project,' the top court said.
The bench also said that by completing the construction of the project, the builder denied the authorities, the ability to evaluate the environmental impact and suggest methods to mitigate any environmental damage.
'At this stage, only remedial measures may be taken. The NGT has already directed the appellant to deposit Rupees one crore and has set up an expert committee to evaluate the impact of the appellant's project and suggest remedial measures.
'In view of these circumstances, we uphold the directions of the NGT and direct that the committee continue its evaluation of the appellant's project so as to bring its environmental impact as close as possible to that contemplated in the EC dated May 2 2013 and also suggest the compensatory exaction to be imposed on the appellant,' the bench said.
The NGT in its order had said that Mumbai is highly congested and any further constructions must be strictly legal.
'Any illegal construction must be visited with permissible adverse legal action. Our experience shows that present is not the only case of illegal construction. Such activity is rampant posing serious challenge to environment,' the NGT had said.
The tribunal's direction had come on a local resident Anil Tharthare's plea challenging a March 13, 2014 order passed by the Principal Secretary, Environment-cum-Member Secretary, State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), State of Maharashtra granting 'amendment' to the Environment Clearance for proposed expansion of redevelopment of 'Oriana Residential Project' on plot of village Bandra at Gandhinagar, Bandra East, Mumbai by Resilience Realty Pvt Ltd. PTI PKS SA