Order revoking environmental clearance granted to Nirma Ltd. for its cement plant in Gujarat set aside

National Green Tribunal (NGT): NGT has allowed a petition filed by Nirma Ltd. challenging the order of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) vide which it revoked the environmental clearance granted to Nirma Ltd. for its 1.91 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity cement plant along a water body at Mahua in Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. The case pertains to cancellation of environmental clearance to cement project of Nirma Ltd. by MoEF after an assessment report by a seven-member expert committee reported that the said land possessed all the characteristics features of wetland ecosystem and cannot be disturbed by setting up a cement plant. The farmers of the area challenged the decision of the Government of Gujarat for setting up of such plant in the middle of sweet water reservoir created by the construction of 250 meters long waste weir called Samadhiyala Bandhara, alleging that the proposed site of the plant also occupied the land falling in catchment area of reservoir and construction of the cement plant in such circumstances would destroy the entire reservoir. The main issue before NGT was to determine the correct factual position of the area, which Nirma Ltd. claimed to be a wasteland while the farmers contend was a wetland. During the pendency of appeal, the Expert Members of NGT inspected the Project site in question twice in order to have clear perspective with the reference to the waste land / water bodies Bandharas and adverse effect of the Project on the environment. On the first visit, the Expert Members noticed that the Bandhara was totally dry despite good rains over short period and on second visit it was noticed that the Bandhara was almost at full level with shallow water depth all over in submergence and no part of the proposed project land was under submergence and the adjoining areas beyond the boundaries of the proposed project land was having shallow water accumulation. Expert Members also noticed during their second visit that there was growth of aquatic vegetation and presence of few migratory birds around the water body. After perusal of material on record, NGT observed, “The revenue records described the area in question as a ‘wasteland’ and it was never, even till today, identified as wetland by the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority and so notified by the Central Government under the provisions of the Act for the purposes of Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules, 2010.” While insisting that Samadhiyala Bandhara is not a wetland at all, NGT clarified that it is actually “a temporary storage of water, which gets used by farmers or gets evaporated due to its large spread, or gets percolated due to fairly high porosity of soil and as such cannot be called as a productive wetland having all perennial features of a wetland.” In its order NGT also emphasized upon the “wise use” of wetland for “development” and directed the State Pollution Control Board to monitor and undertake study of the effects of running of the project on the water body of such nature created by Samdiyala Bandhara for two years from the date of the commencement of the project. (Nirma Ltd. v. Ministry of Environment & Forests, 2015 SCC OnLine NGT 1, decided on January 14, 2015).

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