Applying the stricter norms, last week the bench suspended the environmental clearance to the Mopa airport after finding that EIA Report has vital errors
The UN has praised the Supreme Court of India which has suspended the environmental clearance granted for an international airport at Mopa in Goa and directed Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to revisit the decision in light of its impact on ecology.
The body in a tweet said, “Supreme Court of India drew on our 1st Environmental Rule of Law report in a major ruling last week, suspending a controversial permit for the development of an international airport in Goa-a widely recognised global biodiversity hotspot.”
Good news for the environment: The Supreme Court of India
Late last week, quoting UN’s ‘First Environmental Rule of Law Report’, the bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said, “Environmental rule of law provides an essential platform underpinning the four pillars of sustainable development – economic, social, environmental and peace… Environmental rule of law becomes a priority particularly when we acknowledge that benefits of environmental rule of law extends beyond the environmental sector.”
It further directed, “The EAC shall carry out the exercise within a month of the receipt of a certified copy of this order. Until the EAC carries out the fresh exercise as directed above, the environmental clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on Oct. 28, 2015 shall remain suspended,” the bench said.
It said that a glaring deficiency which emerges from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report is its failure to notice the existence of Ecologically Sensitive Zones of the Western Ghats within a buffer distance of 10 km of the project site.
It granted liberty to the Goa government, project proponent and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to file the report of the EAC before it so as to facilitate the passing of appropriate orders in the proceedings and held that no other court or tribunal should entertain any challenge to the report.
The top court was hearing an appeal filed against the National Green Tribunal’s Aug. 21, 2018 judgment which had refused to quash the environmental clearance for development of Greenfield International Airport at Mopa in Goa.
The NGT judgment came on a plea by Federation of Rainbow Warriors and Hanuman Laxman Aroskar who had challenged the grant of environmental clearance to the project. According to the appellants, Goa’s water resources are facing a severe crisis, Goa has scarcity of land for housing and food or for buffer zones. The Project Proponent concealed vital facts regarding the need for the environmental and socio-economic aspects.
For India’s environment ministry, the judgement is a setback on an otherwise frenetic pace of approvals it as granted to projects, many considered controversial, in the name of easing business growth. The quality and accuracy of the EIA reports for major highway projects in the hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have also come up for questioning, which have been sidestepped by breaking down the project into multiple small stretches. A sleight of planning that has unfortunately been allowed to go unchallenged.