Penalty imposed upon two companies for commencing construction on lake banks before obtaining Environmental Clearance

National Green Tribunal (NGT): National Green Tribunal has imposed a penalty of Rs 117.35 crore and Rs 22.5 crore on Mantri Tech Zone Pvt. Ltd. and Core Mind Software and Services Ltd. respectively, for commencing the construction work of two projects on the catchment area of Agara and Bellandur lakes in Bangalore even before obtaining the Environmental Clearance. Special Economic Zone (SEZ) project has been constructed by Mantri Tech Zone Pvt Ltd and another project by Core Mind Software and Services Ltd. in the area. NGT arrived at the amount of said penalty by calculating five per cent of the respective project costs. Though usual penalty imposed upon in such cases is 10 per cent, NGT observed that as the projects were big, the penalty was slashed in this case. The Tribunal, though, declined to pass an order or direction to stop further progress or demolition of the project; it imposed restrictions on creating third party rights by way of sale or lease. The order imposing penalty upon the two companies came upon an application filed by The Forward Foundation (a charitable trust), Praja RAAG society and Bangalore Environment Trust seeking direction to save the ecologically-sensitive valley between the Bangalore city’s two lakes; Agara and Bellandur and alleging that two companies were involved in the construction of an SEZ park, hotels, apartments and a mall on around 80 acres of land, which was a catchment area. It was further alleged that the project has encroached an Ecologically Sensitive Area, namely, the valley and the catchment area and “Rajakaluves” (Storm Water Drains) which drains rain water into the Bellandur Lake. After perusal of documents on record which included reports prepared by a Committee chaired by Justice N.K. Patil and also a report prepared by ENVIS, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, NGT noted, “There is sufficient material by way of reports, google images and other documents that the Bellandur Lake and even other lakes for that matter have wetlands and catchment areas.” NGT further noted that there was a definite possibility of environment, ecology, lakes and the wetlands being adversely affected by these projects. While observing that the project’s proponents were liable to pay compensation under the ‘Polluter Pays’ Principle, for the illegal and unauthorised construction carried on in violation of environmental laws and prior to the granting of Environmental Clearance, the Tribunal imposed penalty upon the Companies. The Tribunal also formed an eight-member committee to inspect the projects in question and submit a report to the Tribunal, on continuance of the projects. The Forward Foundation v. State of Karnataka, 2015 SCC OnLine NGT 5, decided on May 7, 2015

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