Chennai: The Madras High Court has taken exception to Reliance Industries going ahead with a gas pipeline related project in the union territory of Puducherry without obtaining environmental clearance in advance.
Passing an order on a PIL filed by S Sai Kumar, hailing from Yanam, a territory of Puducherry, a Division Bench comprising Justices Prabha Sridevan and G M Akbar Ali said yesterday that the fact that Reliance had obtained approval after commencing the project was not enough.
The court also asked the Puducherry government to ask for and obtain an environment impact report from experts, since the project area spread over mangrove forests.
The Bench said it was disturbed by the company’s attitude and expected it to have greater social responsibility. “If an environment disaster strikes, it will strike the mighty and the weak equally. We do not understand why the company should have commenced production and then obtained approval”, the bench said.
In his petition, Kumar asked the court to restrain the respondents from establishing a ‘block valve station´ for the pipeline project in Dariyalatippa village without due process of law as laid down in the Madras River Conservancy Act. He said he apprehended there would be environmental damage if the project was established.
The Puducherry government and the company had entered into an MoU for implementing a national gas development project. Twentyfive per cent of the local population were fishermen dependent on the river. If the project was not halted, then, by virtue of destruction of coconut plantation and mangrove forests, the possibility of flooding would increase, the petitioner said.
The mangrove forests should be protected, Kumar said in his petition.
Disposing of the petition, the bench said the applicant should come forward with an environmental management plan, which must be cleared by experts. To prevent possible future damage, the government should also be satisfied that the damage was not irreversible.
The applicant should be prepared and must sufficiently secure the cost of reversing any damage, the bench said.
The government should also have in place necessary infrastructure to maintain periodical survey and enforce stipulations subject to which the permission may be granted.
Before granting approval, the government should call upon the company to publish its proposal so that the public, particularly those who were likely to be affected, were made aware of the proposed action.
This would ensure transparency in the process and at least safeguard against a possible misjudgement if a mishap occurs, the bench said.