Court directs ministry to pass Lavasa order by 16 December

Court directs ministry to pass Lavasa order by 16 December

Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Tuesday stayed the environment ministry’s direction to Lavasa Corp. Ltd to stop construction at the proposed hill station project in the Western Ghats near Pune for alleged violation of environmental norms.

The court directed the ministry to hear Lavasa on Thursday and pass a final order by 16 December.

The court also asked Lavasa to submit a voluntary statement that the firm will restrain from construction and development work till the final order is passed by the environment ministry.

The court has not disposed of the petition and decided to hear the case on 16 December after the ministry passes its final order.

The bench of justices D.K. Deshmukh and N.D. Deshpande heard Lavasa’s petition that challenged the show-cause notice issued by the ministry that alleged that the firm had not secured environmental clearances before starting construction.

An official spokesperson for Lavasa in an email said the “honourable Bombay high court has passed an interim order staying the operation of the ex parte order of status quo passed by the ministry of environment and forests, government of India, by recording a prima facie finding that the show-cause notice does not give any reasons for an ex-parte status quo order".

The email also said: “The high court has recorded the statement of the additional solicitor general that the word ‘ante’ in the show-cause notice is an error and should be ignored. Lavasa Corp. has voluntarily given a statement that the company will not undertake construction work at Lavasa till December 16, 2010."

The ministry on 25 November had asked Lavasa to prove within 15 days that it didn’t violate environmental norms in its hill city development, stalling construction at the site.

The company, which is building a city on 20,000 acres of hillocks at the site, has so far invested Rs4,000 crore in the project.

Shekhar Naphade, counsel for Lavasa, said: “The project relates to tourism and it doesn’t require environmental clearance as the development is not above 1,000m." He also drew a comparison with Sahara’s Aamby Valley project and said the hill station project didn’t require environmental clearance under a 1994 notification issued by the ministry.

However, additional solicitor general Darius Khambatta, appearing for the Union government, said the firm needed environmental clearance for the entire project, according to a new notification of the ministry in 2004.

The court has also directed the ministry to hear the National Alliance of People’s Movements, a non-governmental organization that had initially filed a complaint against the Lavasa project. The organization has alleged that Lavasa bought more than 10,000 acres in violation of certain sections of the Maharashtra Agricultural Lands (Ceiling on Holdings) Act, 1961.

Hindustan Construction Co. Ltd holds a 65% stake in Lavasa Corp.

In November, Lavasa got approval from the Securities and Exchange Board of India to raise Rs2,000 crore through a public float.