Ahmedabad: In the past three years, 18 new shopping malls and arcades have cropped up across this city of over 45 lakh people. But in their zeal to outdo one another with mega structures, the developers of these malls appear to have conveniently overlooked the law of the land.
The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), which is charged with ensuring that environmental laws are upheld, has issued show-cause notices to 12 of the malls asking them to explain certain environmental practices between 7 July 2004 and 14 September 2006.
So what is so unique about these two dates?
In 1994, the Centre brought about an Environment Clearance Notification making it mandatory for certain industries to get an environmental clearance certificate from the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF). It then brought about an amendement on 7 July 2004, adding building construction activity under this notification.
“As per the amended notification, three conditions were laid out for buildings to mandatorily have an environment clearance certificate,” said S.P. Tyagi, member secretary, GPCB. “If the project cost was Rs50 crore or more; if 1,000 or more people would reside in the buildings constructed; or if discharge of domestic affluent would be more than 50,000 litres per day.”
The notification specifies that constructers of such buildings were required to prepare an environmental impact assessment regarding water, air and land pollution. Later, the pollution control board is required to call for a public hearing to be held in consultation with the district collectorate. It is only after getting the local views and a report from the state pollution control board that MoEF would issue requisite permission, usually after specifying several conditions regarding drainage systems, fire control systems, tree plantations and other environmental issues.
“None of the malls constructed post-2004 notification have received any certificate,” says Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra, an NGO whose complaint triggered the probe. Paryavaran Mitra identified eight malls and wrote a letter to GPCB. Though the notification was amended in September 2006, GPCB went ahead and sent out notices to builders of 12 malls. “The Act may have changed in 2006, but we need to establish that they had not followed the 2004 notification until the new amendment. So they have violated the law for two years and cannot claim innocence,” says Tyagi.
But some of the malls that GPCB claimed to have issued notices to deny having received any such notice. “I have no idea and we have not received any notice from either GPCB or any other authority,” says Jatin Guptaof JP Constructions, which is building Gujarat’s biggest mall with over 400,000 sq. ft of space. Another builder, N.G. Patel of the NG group, also said no notice has been received.
But Tyagi insists entities representing Patel and Gupta had been issued notices.
It is unlikely that the malls themselves would be put out of business. “It does not mean that we would pull down the malls. The Act has provision for up to five years of imprisonment, up to Rs1 lakh in penalty, or both. We have approached the court in one case and are in the process of approaching court in another,” said Tyagi.