New Delhi: Any citizen concerned about the environmental impact of a project has the right to participate in a public hearing and appeal against the project, the Delhi high court said on Wednesday, in a ruling that gives people affected or displaced by projects a voice in the courts.
The court said this while ruling in a case related to a Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) smelter in Jharsuguda, Orissa, whose environmental clearance had been challenged by an activist first at the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) in 2007, and, subsequent to its dismissal, at the high court. The order added that the purpose of a public hearing is to elicit the view of the people and activist groups and that such people have a right to participate in the environmental clearance process and file appeals.
The court fined NEAA, a statutory body constituted to hear appeals and grievances against environmental clearances, Rs15,000 to be paid to the petitioner by way of cost and ordered it to hear the petition again on merit.
“The appellate authority was meant to hear grievances and appeals in environment sector, so that aggrieved people first go to the appellate for redressal and not have to resort to the court option. Such an order can ensure that grievance redressal becomes more positive,” said an environmental lawyer, who did not want to be identified.
The petition was filed in NEAA in May 2007, and was dismissed by the authority in December 2007 on the basis that the petitioner did not have a locus standi, or the right to file an appeal. The petitioner then appealed to the Delhi high court in April 2008.
“A restrictive view of has been taken by the NEAA. The 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment notification narrows the definition further as only affected people in the area can file appeals whereas every citizen has a fundamental duty to protect the environment under the constitution,” added the lawyer.
The petitioner, Prafulla Samantara, president of Lok Shakti Abhiyan, a local environmental activist group, said he would appeal to NEAA again. “My petition was filed on grounds of an improperly conducted public hearing and an inadequate EIA report,” he added. An environmental impact assessment or EIA report looks at the impact of a project on the environment.
“Current activity will not be affected... We will explore future options after we receive a certified copy of the court order,” said a VAL official who did not want to be identified.
NEAA has previously dismissed several applications—Mint could identify two instances, one involving the Middle Siang hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh and another, the integrated steel plant of Monnet Ispat in Chhattisgarh.
“Where do you draw the line on who is affected in the environment sector when thermal power plants in India and China are being protested against in Europe and the US because they are affecting the climate?” asked the lawyer.