RTI reveals that violating environmental norms in Pune has gone through the roof and is likely to land buyers in trouble.
As per the Section 4 of the RTI Act, the environment clearance department and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board are duty bound to put up information on environmental violations in construction of townships and any other housing projects.
However, although they have technically uploaded them, they are not in a “searchable mode” and hence, it is an onerous task for any citizen to access the information easily.
Pune-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar, has made the task easier for people. Minutes of the Meetings of the State Level Appraisal Committee (SEAC) and State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) are uploaded on the www.ec.maharashtra.gov.in website. SEAC & SEIAA in Maharashtra are constituted by Central Government to regulate projects in various categories – in this case, Kumbhar considered only those construction projects, which are of 2 lakh square feet to 15 lakh sq ft, which largely and directly affect common citizens and for which state environmental clearance is mandatory. Kumbhar downloaded more than 2,000 pages of innumerable minutes of meetings held by SEAC and SEIAA and have exposed some startling statistics and names of guilty builders and companies.
It may be noted that after SEAC zeroes in on any construction project that has violated environmental norms, it sends the name to SEIAA to recommend further action as needed. MPCB is responsible for directing the relevant municipal authority to demolish buildings that have violated environmental norms.
152 real estate projects in and around Pune have violated environmental norms. More shockingly, criminal cases have been files against them and in some cases, environment clearances for their projects rejected, yet construction and sale is in full swing. Kumbhar said, “there are eight real estate projects in and around Pune for which the State Level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) has recommended rejection of environment clearance and yet the projects continue in their construction and sale to innocent buyers.”
In Maharashtra, barring Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, a shocking 152 out of 172 environment norm violations are in Pune and its surrounding areas. It may be noted that Pune is the leading urban agglomeration, with maximum construction activity, compared to any other city in India. Kumbhar says that, “it may be recalled that notice for demolition of `Adarsh’ was for violation of the Environment Protection Act. While influential residents of that controversial high-rise have ensured it has not been demolished, the same may not be the case with all these 172 building schemes and may ultimately land the flat purchaser in trouble.”
Since many years now, Pune has become a hub of illegal real estate activities. Be it proposed non-agricultural plots (so called N.A Plots), proposed townships, bungalow plots or plantation schemes with so called ownerships. Now it has come to light that many residential and commercial projects are under construction without obtaining necessary environment clearances. Kumbhar alleges that, “Since big politicians and babus are indirectly involved in this racket, no proponent of such projects is scared of any law in India. Interestingly, you will find the spouse of almost every corrupt politician or babu in real estate business.”
As per the Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act, stringent punishment under the law includes imprisonment, which may be extended to five years but a paltry penalty of a few lakh rupees, which is measly compared to the cost of the project. Hence, it is the buyers who end up at the receiving end. “In eight such residential projects, people have already started living in their newly bought house. Until now no real estate developer has been punished for having flouted environmental norms,” Kumbhar said.
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