Medha Patkar insists that a project without environment clearance cannot be allowed to go ahead
After saving the Nav'is of Pandora, James Cameron was in India, talking about his desire to help Bollywood make 3D films. What better place for him to be at, than the plush Lavasa township, the latest hotspot in the raging battle for protection of the environment?
Strangely, a hearing on the matter at the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) in New Delhi on Thursday, was almost unattended by the media. The ministry has asked Lavasa Corporation to produce relevant documents and a detailed environment impact assessment report, which will be submitted to the Bombay High Court on 16th December.
Social activist Medha Patkar attended the hearing on behalf of the National Alliance of People's Movement (NAPM). But Ms Patkar did not want to speculate on the outcome of the hearing, which would be known only after the return of union environment minister Jairam Ramesh from Cancun. "If he sticks to the law, the construction has to be stopped. No such project can be undertaken without obtaining an environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests," Ms Patkar told Moneylife over the telephone.
The main feature at the hearing last week, was a presentation by Lavasa Corporation, describing its plans to enrich the environment at the site of the township project. The measures range from water treatment to seeding and greening. However, details that the ministry sought with regard to the environmental clearance required for the Rs6,000 crore project was not furnished.
The show-cause notice issued by the ministry on 20th November said Lavasa Corporation had started construction on 1,600 acres, when it had a clearance to build on only 1,500 acres. Ms Patkar said that the massive project has impacted the ecological system in the area, including a river and the forest, and that it had impacted the livelihood of people in the area.
In the words of additional solicitor general representing the MOEF, M Khambata, "They brazenly went on with the construction, though admittedly they had no environmental clearance. The burden to prove that the project was not harming the environment is on Lavasa."
Following the show-cause notice, the company accused the environment minister of malafide intent, of coming under the influence of activists, and in a 1000-page letter it petitioned the Bombay High Court to stay the stop-work notice by the environment ministry. However, it is said that the letter did not answer the questions that have been raised by the environment ministry.
Lavasa reportedly obtained a clearance from the state government in 2002. But under the law, it is the Centre that is supposed to issue the clearance. A certificate was obtained from the Pollution Control Board also, after construction had already started. In 2005, the environment ministry apparently took note of the matter and through the state government sent Lavasa a notice. Somehow, there wasn't any progress in the matter for nearly three years, till some activists raised the issue again.
In its petition before the court, Lavasa Corporation gave quite an astounding reason for skipping the environmental clearance. According to the company, the plan did not require clearance since it was a tourism project and is situated within 1,000 metres above sea level. Besides, about Rs6,000 crore was already invested in the project. The company's reply to the ministry's notice can be read on the company website.
The Forest (Conservation) Act (1980, amended in 1988), is clear that no project which entails diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes, can be undertaken without clearance from the MOEF. The project also violates the Environment Protection Act (1986), Ms Patkar said.
Now, as the activists and the affected people await a decision, Mr Cameron has been talking about how he helped stop projects in the Amazon forest and back home in Canada that threatened to displace indigenous tribes, and how he plans to make a documentary on this. Lavasa is a similar case that he might consider making a documentary on.
New Delhi: An Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee may meet on 22nd December to decide on raising diesel prices by Re1-Rs2 a litre in the backdrop of global crude rates climbing to near $90 a barrel, reports PTI.
“The meeting of EGoM has been tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of 22nd December,” a senior government official said.
With international crude oil having climbed to near $90 a barrel, the gap between domestic retail price and the production cost has widened, necessitating the review.
State-run Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL) currently sell diesel at Rs4.71 a litre lower than its cost.
“The oil marketing companies are losing about Rs75 crore per day on diesel sale and a view has to be taken on raising fuel prices,” he said. “Freeing of diesel price (from government control) is not possible at this juncture and at best a hike of Re1-Rs2 a litre is likely to be approved.”
The government had on 26th June decontrolled petrol price and had decided to make diesel prices market-based in due course.
While petrol price has risen four times since then, diesel rates have remained unchanged. Another hike in petrol price by oil marketing companies is likely in a day or two to make up for the rise in crude prices.
The official said the three state firms lost Rs11,153 crore in revenues on diesel sales during April-September this fiscal and without any change in price the revenue loss is projected to be Rs36,540 crore.
IOC, BPCL and HPCL also sell domestic LPG and kerosene below cost and the combined revenue loss for the full fiscal is projected to be around Rs65,839 crore.
The official said international crude oil (raw material for making petrol and diesel) prices were around $72-$74 per barrel in June when the government freed petrol price. Since then crude has climbed to near $90 per barrel.
The 26th June decision had resulted in a Rs3.50 a litre hike in petrol prices in Delhi.
At that time, the government decided to raise the diesel price by an ad-hoc Rs2 per litre, even though the difference between the domestic retail price and imported cost of the fuel was almost twice of that.
Besides diesel, the oil retailers lose Rs272.19 on the sale of every 14.2-kg LPG cylinder and Rs17.72 per litre of kerosene.
Kochi: Turning down Kerala's plea for uniform pricing policy for natural gas throughout the country, Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) chairman, Lalit Mansingh, today said there was no provision for determining the price of gas to the consumers either by the government or regulator and it should be done through price discovery mechanism, reports PTI.
The government policy is that ‘price discovery must take place through competitive market’. Market should not be distorted in any way, Mr Mansingh said while addressing the Natural Gas conference here organised by the state government and Kerala state Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC).
Gas is already being marketed at different prices in Gujarat.
Kerala must focus on developing of the gas market which will in turn depend on infrastructure.
The Government has approved nine major pipelines for supplying gas. The bid process of three pipelines has been completed and two more bids are being invited.
On city gas distribution network at Ernakulum, he said state government was requested to take action notifying single window clearance, Mapping of geographical areas for City Gas Distribution (GCD) networking and exemption or reducing sales tax on Natural gas.
Calling for a uniform pricing policy for gas, state industries minister, Elamaram Kareem, said price of domestic natural gas ranges from $2.71 dollars-$5.73 per million metric British thermal unit (mmBtu). The Union government should devise a policy of pooled pricing of natural gas so that it is priced uniformly throughout the country. It should not be thrown to market forces, he said.
Pointing that cartel of cement manufacturers was deciding the prices of cement, he said this should not happen in the case of gas.
The government has taken up major infrastructure projects including the high-speed Thiruvananthapuram-Mangalore rail corridor, Kochi-Coimbatore industrial corridor, Kannur international airport project and Titanium sponge unit.
The government's focus was on developing infrastructure projects on PPP basis, he said.
GAIL director (business development), S Venkitaraman, said pipeline infrastructure was the key to the growth of gas-based industry. In India gas contributes about 9% of energy mix which is expected to go up to 20% by 2030.
State chief secretary, Dr P Prabhakaran, said natural gas was an important source of energy. Kerala has already staked its claim for larger allocation from the KG basin and share from the pooled gas.
Kerala power secretary, Paul Antony said there is need to usher in a pricing policy for gas. Gas is what we want, but it should be at correct price, he said.