Maharashtra takes 'credible action' against Lavasa, puts ball in MoEF court

Almost a year after Lavasa — the hill city project near Pune being constructued by Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) — was served a show cause notice by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, it looks like the company's battle with the government may have just gotten more hostile.

The Maharashtra government today, through the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), filed a criminal complaint against 15 persons who were part of the contentious hill city project, Lavasa. The complaint, which was filed under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) for violation of the environment laws, included its chairman Ajit Gulabchand and three directors.

Chief Judicial Magistrate NT Ghatge, before whom the complaint was filed in Pune, adjourned the hearing of the case hearing till Saturday, saying he will scrutinise its grounds.

In response, Lavasa Corporation Limited stuck to its stand that it had always adhered to the law of the land and will continue doing so.

 Maharashtra takes credible action against Lavasa, puts ball in MoEF court

Lavasa.

A statement sent out today by Lavasa Corporation Limited, stated: "In compliance with the pre-conditions set by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) for granting Environment Clearance to the Lavasa project, the Maharashtra State Government has taken necessary action by filing complaint in Magistrate court, Pune. It is unfortunate that the state government which had itself granted the environment clearance to Lavasa in 2004, has had to initiate this action."

Spread over 25,000 acres and a few hours from Mumbai, Lavasa was served a show-cause notice by the environment ministry on 25 November last year, for violating environment norms.

But, Gulabchand cries foul.

In the recent past, Gulabchand, has often said that his project was being singled out and that his company has not indulged in any environmental violations. In fact, Gulabchand pointed out that the project was carried out with the consent of the government.

He cited that not only the Maharashtra government had appraised the project environmentally and cleared it, but even the expert committee, set up by the MoEF passed it.

On 17 October, Gulabchand even appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to intervene in the issue of Lavasa saying “gross injustice” had been done to it.

“We are being unjustly treated, we have tried every avenue. I am appealing to the cabinet and the PM to intervene at this late stage and correct the situation and the wrongs done,” he had told CNBC-TV18 in an interview.

According to the Hindustan Times, the Maharashtra government on Thursday directed the state pollution control board to implement environment related laws and rules against Lavasa.

While the punishment for violating the Environmental Protection Act under the sections 15 and 16 — that Lavasa has been accused of — is a penalty of Rs 1 lakh or imprisonment of up to five years or both, and may not seem extremely severe, the company's shares have taken a dunk.

Its parent company, Hindustan Construction Company posted a net loss of Rs 40.54 crore compared with a profit of Rs 12.14 crore in the same period a year ago period, due to higher interest burden and significant delays in new infrastructure project allotments.

On June 10, the MoEF wrote to the state asking them to take "credible action" action — one of the five preconditions laid down before the project can be regularised — against Lavasa for carrying out work on the project without the mandatory clearance.

The Bombay High Court has directed the MoEF to pass a final order on the project by November 10.

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Updated Date: Nov 04, 2011 21:02:55 IST