In a major development, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has issued notices to the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government over a review petition filed by retired bureaucrat EAS Sarma, pertaining to construction of the state's upcoming capital Amaravati.
The notices were issued by the principal bench of the tribunal in New Delhi, after Sarma had challenged an earlier order of the NGT on November 11, 2017.
"This was a review petition filed last year, within one month of the order. We are arguing that the NGT has not taken all our arguments into consideration in its judgement. We will point out that certain arguments that we raised were missed out and there should be a review on that," Sarma, a former secretary to the Union Government, told TNM.
"The NGT has given a judgment that has partially met some of our concerns. For example, it has laid down some extra environmental conditions to be followed while building Amaravati. This means that they also agreed that the earlier environmental norms being met were not adequate," he added.
Sarma points out that the NGT has appointed a committee of independent experts as well, to review the project.
"If there is any deviation from the NGT order, the committee will have to inform the bench. We can also point out violations. In a way, Amaravati is already under the oversight of NGT for a few years," Sarma said.
Speaking to TNM, noted environment lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who is arguing the case on Sarma’s behalf, said that a review petition could only challenge any errors that were apparent on the face of the order and nothing else.
"The NGT while dismissing our application, did not consider the contents of the appeal at all and it committed certain errors. For example, we said that the project was not properly appraised by the state's environmental impact assessment (EIA). The NGT says that the state's EIA thoroughly appraised the project from 11 am in the morning to 10 pm in the night on a particular date," Ritwick explained.
"We put on record, the proceedings on that particular day, which showed that the EIA had considered 81 projects, out of which Amaravati was one. This implies that either the other 80 projects were done in a hurry, or the capital's proposal was done in a hurry," he added.
Ritwick said that there were a few such discrepancies that they pointed out in the review plea.
"Secondly, the state government said that pollution was not a big issue. However, we submitted the figures from the EIA report prepared by the state itself, which shows that all the environmental parameters in the existing area, exceed the national standard," he said.
"They argued that they had relied on the figures for Vijayawada, which is a critically polluted area. The NGT in its judgement, had said that Vijayawada is very far away from the capital and is of no consequence. However, we pointed out that the city is just one kilometre away from the capital, on the other side of the Krishna river," he added.
The plea argues that the NGT has 'borrowed' the submission of the project proponent, without even giving their own findings.
"We are not challenging them. We are only pointing out the gaps and saying that not all of our concerns were addressed," Sarma emphasised.
Meanwhile, the NGT has issued notices to officials of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Andhra Pradesh Capital Region Development Authority (APCRDA), State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) and the State Pollution Control Board (PCB), asking them to file a response.
The matter is expected to come up for hearing again in the last week of May or the first week of June.
Ever since Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014, the construction of the state’s new capital, Amaravati, has been the centre of attention.
While the proposal has received the support of many, it has not been without criticism.
While some critics argue that it was unfair for the government to take over more than 30,000 acres of fertile agricultural land for constructing the capital, others have argued that the Naidu government was courting danger by constructing it in a floodplain.