Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Kolkata, Jul 6:
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) today directed the Odisha government and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) of the Union government to submit a report within two weeks on the validity of environment clearance of Lower Suktel Irrigation project in Bolangir district.
The directive came after the Tribunal admitted a petition in this regard today.
It may be mentioned that in its order to the state government and MoEF on May 22 this year, the Tribunal had asked them to file their reply within four weeks on why an injunction would not be granted in respect of the ongoing construction work of Lower Suktel Project.
The Tribunal also rejected a time petition filed by the state government seeking three months’ time to reply to the counter.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior lawyer Sankar Prasad Pani opposed the time petition and prayed for an injunction on construction work and tree felling for the project. The Tribunal, after hearing the arguments from both the sides, directed the state Water Resource department to file a status report and reply to the petition within two weeks.
The matter will come up for hearing again on July 21.
The petitioners contended that the validity of the environment clearance granted in 1998 had lapsed since 2003 since construction work did not commence within five years of its grant.
The state Water Resources department admitted in its compliance report submitted to MoEF that the construction work of the project had started only in April 2013.
The petitioners further contended that the entire construction work going on since 2013 is illegal and amounts to an offence under Environment Protection Act, 1986.
It is worthwhile to mention that the state government is in the process of acquiring around 5000 hectares of land for the Lower Suktel project of which 637 hectares is forest land. Sixteen villages will be fully submerged and 10 villages will be partly submerged and affect 4160 families.
The forceful construction work started in April, 2013 in the presence of armed police force and arrest of the leaders of agitating villages who have been opposing the forceful land acquisition.