In what could be a big blow to all developers constructing their projects around lakes, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has delivered a landmark judgment. The NGT judgment imposes a new buffer zone of 75 metres for lakes and wetlands which will be a no-construction zone, as opposed to 30 metres of buffer earlier. This will stop all new projects from getting constructed within 75 meters of lakes, and will impact many existing projects too.
The NGT has also ruled that the buffer zone of the rajakaluves must be calculated from the edge of the drain, as opposed to the current norm of measuring from the center of the drain. This has to be followed for all future projects.
The NGT also upheld the fine levied on Mantri Techzone Private Limited at Rs 117 crore, and asked Coremind Software Services Private Limited to pay a fine of Rs 13.5 crores. Apart from this, the NGT has quashed the environmental clearance and plan sanctions, and has stayed the construction of the project till the time the developer obtains a fresh clearance.
No construction zone rule applicable to all projects around all lakes
“The distances in respect of buffer zone specified in this judgment shall be made applicable to all the projects and all the Authorities concerned are directed to incorporate such conditions in the projects to whom Environmental Clearance and other permissions are now granted not only around Belandur Lake, Rajkulewas, Agara Lake, but also all other Lakes/ wetlands in the city of Bengluru,” says the judgment. This comes as a big blow to many other cases of constructions around lakebeds.
In a similar case of construction in valley zone in between Kaikondrahalli lake and Kasavanahalli lake, Southern bench of NGT had cleared the project, concluding that the plan was revised to ensure no violation. However there are many other constructions are coming up in the same area which will be affected by this judgment.
The change in the buffer zone, as explained in the judgment, has been made because the RMP puts buffer zone for storm water drains at 50 metres while lake, a bigger water body than the storm water drain, has got only 30 metres as buffer zone. NGT’s this judgment is also likely to affect the future masterplans for the city and the state and plan sanction rules.
Key highlights of the judgment are:
- Mantri Techzone Pvt Ltd has been directed to restore 3 acre 10 guntas land in the encroached lake bed area immediately. There should be a buffer of 75 metres, which should be maintained as green belt/ valley zone.
- The developer has been also asked to recreate storm water drains to ensure problem-free water runoff.
- SEIAA (State Environmental Impact assessment Agency) has been directed to amend the environmental clearance of both the project proponents and all further constructions of these two projects shall be conducted under the monitoring of SEIA.
- The Green Tribunal has also taken note of the discrepancy in the footfalls and car parking numbers submitted by the developer. The developer has been asked to plan properly for managing traffic with extra service roads and approach roads as necessary.
- There is a combined direction to remove the muck/debris deposited in the rajakaluve within 4 weeks failing which LDA shall undertake the same and charges shall have to be paid by the two builders.
- The NGT has taken note of water crisis and ground water scenario in the city. The direction says that treated sewage water should be used for constructions. In case the water is not good enough, sewage treatment plants should be upgraded immediately. Water source for the purpose of construction must be identified before providing environment clearance.
- State of Karnataka has been directed to submit a proposal demarcating wetlands for all lakes, within four weeks to MoEF, which will be officially notified later.
What is the project all about?
Earlier known as Manipal ETA Infotech, the mixed residential project got clearance under Special Economic Zone (SEZ) category, in a High Level Clearance Committee meeting held during Global Investors Meet in 2000, when S M Krishna was the chief minister of Karnataka.
The project that was dormant for a long time got reactivated in recent years. The ambitious IT techpark-cum-residential project where Mantri Developers were a partner, was planned at a cost of Rs 2300 crore. The project was planned on 72 acres of land between two of Bengaluru’s important lakes, which forms the catchment area for Bellandur lake. The project was renamed as Mantri Techzone Private Limited, with a major change in stakeholding patterns.
A copy of the BWSSB no-objection certificate issued to the builder sourced by Citizen Matters revealed that the NOC was partial and did not cover the full project. A study by Indian Institute of Science (IISc) revealed that the project has encroached the major stormwater drain that connects Madivala lake to Bellandur. The study also said that the project would cause massive traffic jams in the area. Citizen Matters had written a series of articles on the issue.
Exactly a year ago, National Green Tribunal had delivered a judgment penalising both Mantri Techzone Private Limited and Core Mind Software and Services Private Limited to the tune of 5% of the project cost, that is, Rs 117 crore and Rs 22.5 crore respectively.
The NGT then also had restrained the developer from selling any part of the yet-to-be-built project thereby creating any third party interest, and not to pass on the fine amount to the buyers because, to quote NGT judgment, the project accrued liability “as a result of their own intentional defaults, disobedience of Law in Force And carrying on project activities and construction illegally and unauthorizedly.”
The NGT constituted an expert committee to examine the encroachment and construction in stormwater drains and wetlands abutting lakes in Bangalore, and had asked the committee to prescribe the buffer zone that should be followed for lakes and wetlands. The fine was however stayed later by the Supreme Court.
The NGT inspection committee submitted its report to the court. After the final hearings over last few days, the verdict has been delivered.
Read the full judgment here:
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