The State Ministry of Forests, Ecology and Environment has assured that the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority will be reconstituted within a month and clearances given to the mixed development project coming up between the Bellandur and Agara lakes would be reviewed. The assurance was given in the meeting conducted by Upa Lokayukta, Subhash Adi on Friday January 17th 2014.
The Member Secretary of Ministry of Forests, Ecology and Environment, Ramachandran who was also a part of the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority, was summoned to the meeting, to investigate the alleged irregularities by Mantri Developers on the land between Bellandur and Agara lakes.
KIADB chairman M N Vidyashankar, BBMP Commissioner Lakshmi Narayan, BWSSB Chairman Ravi Shankar, BBMP Chief Conservator of Forests Brijesh Kumar, KSPCB Chairman Vaman Acharya, Member Secretary of Department of Ecology and Environment Ramachandran, representatives of Lake Development Authority, Mantri Developers and the public were present in the meeting.
State environment body explains their stand
The Member Secretary for State Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment, Ramachandran, explained the methodology of issuing environmental clearances to projects. Issuing the clearance is the decision of the Central Ministry of Environment and Forests, the state does not have any authority on this. The State Environment Impact Assessment Committee has 15 members, including geologists, environment experts etc. Once the application seeking clearance is received, there are three steps: Screening, Scoping and Appraisal.
There is no public hearing for the projects which are non-hazardous in nature. The said project is of non-hazardous B category, so there was no need for any public consultation. Projects that are deemed dangerous or polluting, or deal with chemicals or a river valley etc typically require public consultation, he added.
Justice Adi was perplexed to know that the state environment ministry doesn’t have a role in protecting the state’s environmental resources. The BBMP Commissioner clarified that maintaining lakes and storm water drains was the BBMP’s responsibility, but he did not take responsibility for the valley/catchment part. It was also revealed that though the project land is on the catchment area for Bellandur lake, there was no catchment defined by the Revenue Department.
However, the Upa Lokayukta pointed that the public were relying on the scientific report prepared by Indian Institute of Science, as they were worried over public good and the impact on the environment. He asked: “The laws are stringent. But who has to look into them and enforce it?”
The Member Secretary answered that the Ministry of Environment and Forest was responsible for monitoring the issue, and the public can approach them directly. To this, Nitin Sheshadri, a resident of Koramangala, reacted by saying that the MOEF team did conduct an inspection which was with SEIAA, but there was no reaction on it. The Member Secretary then assured that the authority would be constituted in a month and the issue would be looked into.
Nobody to protect green belts
The discussion revealed that there was no criterion while selecting the land for a SEZ or non-SEZ project. Environment clearances were needed when the total built-up area exceeds 20,000 sq. ft, which was the case with the project in question. The area can be identified by the builder, or given by the KIADB. The promise for the land was given by Karnataka Udyog Mitra (KUM) in the year 2000. The clearance for the project was given by the High Level Clearance Committee.
The said land was allotted by KIADB in 2007, by its own discretion. The clearance was given by State Environment Assessment Committee, based on the assessment by State Environment Impact Assessment Authority. In this, the state environment ministry has no role, except for some of its members being absorbed in the assessment committee, said the Member Secretary.
At this point, Justice Adi asked the officials present: “Who is responsible for maintaining the green belt, if none of you are?” None of the officials from various governing bodies and departments, present at the meeting had an answer to this.
Rules written clearly, but not followed
- KIADB allotment letter to Manipal ETA Infotech, dated June 28th 2007, in condition 7, states that “where industrial areas are located within the municipal corporation limits, urban development areas, the building bylaws of the corporation authorities, urban development authorities shall only be allowed.”
- The letter says that the company should upgrade 2 km of Ring Road to six lane road and build underpass and overbridge near the project. However, the only Ring Road nearby, that is Outer Ring Road, is at least half a kilometre from the project site. Also, it is already upgraded. It is not clear whether they meant Sarjapur Road, which is adjacent to the site. If it is Sarjapur Road, the land for widening has to be taken either from the project site itself, or from the Agara lake side. The confusion has been created by KIADB itself, by not being clear on the name of the road to be developed
- It also instructs that the developer shall “provide a minimum of 80% of the employment to the local people on an overall basis.”, and that, “The personnel officer employed by you should be a Kannadiga.” It also specifies,“You shall provide employment to at least one person in each displaced family of the erstwhile land owners in respect of the land allotted to you, depending on their qualification and suitability to the post.”
‘Check the transactions’
Upa Lokayukta asked why the KIADB went on extending the time frame given to the developers to complete the project, though the objective was not fulfilled. KIADB rules have provisions to take action against this, he added. KIADB admitted to not having taken any action.
Justice Adi observed that the government acquired public land and gave it to the developer, where the public remained voiceless. He pointed to the SEZ Act which states that the ownership of the original allottee should not be less than 51% till the end of the lease period. He ordered that the stakeholder pattern of Mantri Techzone Pvt Ltd and the transaction pattern be submitted before the next meeting. The developers agreed to submit it.
The Upa Lokayukta asked the Chairman of KIADB, M N Vidyashankar, to check the transaction that took place between M/s Manipal ETA Infotech and Mantri Techzone Private Limited, while changing the name from the former to the latter, to see if it conformed to the rules.
‘BBMP final authority for bylaws’
The issue of plan sanction was discussed in the meeting. Upa Lokayukta pointed to the KIADB’s terms and conditions where KIADB states that the developer has to proceed after getting plan sanctions by the local body, in this case the BBMP. He made it clear that neither BDA nor the KIADB had any powers of sanctioning the plan, and the BBMP was the final authority for building bylaws.
The Upa Lokayukta said the meeting would again be convened on February 17. Meanwhile, the BBMP is free to take action as per the law.
Water issue not solved
The discussion on water requirement was interesting. The public representatives asked how BWSSB could issue an NOC to a developer, while the residents in the area, who have been waiting since 1993 for Cauvery water, haven’t been given the connection yet. BWSSB chairman Ravi Shankar replied that the NOC is not a commitment to provide water.
Residents then pointed to the Karnataka Udyog Mitra document, where it says no water could be extracted from underground, and asked how else the project was going to get water. This question too wasn’t answered by anyone.
Later, some residents of the apartments who have paid the deposits to the BWSSB, were assured that water would be given to them. The meeting did not discuss the issue of how a valley zone became mixed use land, how the land use was changed from valley zone, why the drain which existed earlier in the map was filled up etc. The BWSSB representatives did not assure any review of the clearance given to the project.
Despite all this useless meetings, the above project would be completed successfully. Every politician, realtor, bureaucrat and other related parties of this project would have their share of printed paper, and they would seem to have the last laugh. Bellandur lake is hardly a lake. Rather It’s a huge sewage dump. Despite court orders, sewage and other pollutants are being dumped daily in to the lake. Lab test have proven time and again the presence of pollutants, heavy metals et al in the lake water. When judicial orders are not enforced, how do you expect other weaker(and vested) powers to hold fort. The ultimate sufferers as usual would be the common people. Many may die of cancer 10 to 20 years from now. Whether BJP rules or Congress rules, things are not going to change. All Indians are condemned to this ugly fate repeating ad-nauseum ad-infinitum. I guess we should stop discussing about such things and start concentrating on how to live/die peacefully despite such happenings. Calling me names or judging my character from my comments wouldn’t change the Status-quo. Things might get better only if changes start to happen at the very top, and subsequently cascades down – ‘Yata Raaja Tataa Prajaa’. It’s never the other way.
If this project gets a go ahead, it would be a slap on the face of India shining. Why did BWSSB assure the residents of water. Why can’t the builder pay back all the money of the to be residents along with interests accrued? When will India become corruption free? When will the govt. Wake up and take simple solutions instead of complicated ones. Can any honest politician come forward and take a stand that Bangalore will not support any illegal activity .
I hope there is no clearance and the land is left as-is. But then, I can’t help the feeling that there would be loopholes through which they will somehow wriggle through and have the last laugh.