The National Green Tribunal on Monday cancelled the eco-clearance granted to a Godrej high-rise residential apartment project near Kaikondrahalli Lake in Bengaluru.
The NGT quashed the environmental clearance granted by the Karnataka State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) to Godrej Reflections (phase-1 of the project) and Godrej Lake Gardens (phase-2).
P Ramprasad, who led the arguments against the environmental clearances given to these projects, told TNM, “The project was touching the lake on the southern side. It was in violation of environmental norms, municipal corporation norms and buffer zone regulations. Despite this, SEIAA granted permissions illegally. We challenged this before the NGT.”
There were two matters before the NGT regarding the environmental violations around the eco-fragile Kaikondrahalli Lake. The one pertaining specifically to the Godrej project was filed by HP Rajanna. The other, which is wider in scope and targets multiple structures around the lake for violating environmental norms, municipal rules, and buffer zone regulations was filed by the NGO Mahadevapura Abhivriddhi Samraskshane Samiti (MAPSAS).
The NGT on Monday clubbed the two matters and pronounced the order cancelling the environmental clearance of the Godrej residential apartments. “This means that the project has come to a grinding halt. Other permissions like construction, building plans, licenses and other planning permissions as well as NOCs from different statutory authorities and all have no legal value,” P Ramprasad says.
The advocate also alleges that in the past one year when the Godrej project was in the foundation stage, it has already tampered and endangered the ecology of the area. He placed these arguments before the NGT as well. “To build a high-rise apartment project, they need to excavate a large quantity of earth. That’s what they have been doing since the past one year,” he says.
“There is a natural storm water drain whose the hydrology was altered because they were trying to cement the natural water stream itself. There are buffer zones along the natural water stream as well, where they were dumping waste. The environment load of the project is beyond the carrying capacity of the fragile ecosystem there. This tampered with the ecology and hydrology of the area,” Ramprasad says.
Other structures in buffer zone
It’s not just the Godrej project, but structures have also encroached on the Kaikondrahalli Lake as well as the lake’s buffer zone.
A joint inspection report pertaining to the environmental violations happening around Kaikondrahalli Lake was submitted to the NGT by a four-member committee in September last year. The committee consisted of members from the Central Pollution Control Board, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and Bangalore Development Authority. TNM has a copy of the report.
The report states that according to the Revised Master Plan 2015, there is a 30-metre buffer of ‘no development’ zone around water bodies.
Apart from the Godrej project, the report alleged that many other establishments were also found to be within the Kaikondrahalli Lake buffer zone. These include the Renuka High School with playground and toilet, Sports Centre, Raksha Car Service, Kidzee School, some other shops and commercial establishments.
Further, apartment complex Sri Mitra Spring Valley’s swimming pool, club house and approach road were found to be in the lake’s buffer area, as was the southeast portion of Alps Estate, another apartment. Of the latter, the project area where the STP and exit gate are situated are in the lake’s buffer zone. One more apartment named SJR Water Mark has also been named in the report, as its rainwater harvesting tank, park, tennis court and a portion of the driveway are in 1 acre 17 guntas which fall in the buffer area. Interestingly, all of these properties had obtained environmental clearances from SEIAA.
MAPSAS’s case was against all of the buffer zone violations around Kaikondrahalli Lake and restoration of the lake area. A representative of the non-profit tells TNM, “We have seen that the area between Kaikondrahalli and Kasavanahalli Lakes has been constructed on rapidly. This, even as the area between the two lakes had a valley zone marked under the Comprehensive Development Plan 2015.” According to the Revised Master Plan 2015, a valley zone may only be used for laying down sewage lines, water treatment plants, roads, culverts, pathways etc. given that they do not obstruct the movement and course of the water.
A Google Earth image shows construction in the valley area between the lakes
Construction soil dumped near the lake
While Kasavanahalli Lake is the upstream lake, Kaikondrahalli is the downstream one. Due to the rampant construction, the surrounding areas have seen flooding during heavy rains as the rainwater doesn't make way directly into the lakes as it should have. Had the wetlands between the two lakes been left in the natural state, this would not have happened.
“And this has been happening around most of Bengaluru’s lakes, not just here. But here, because it used to be a large wetland between two lakes, the impact is felt on a bigger scale too. The government has failed to protect the lakes. The buffer zone is not respected at all. There is loss of bio-diversity due to garbage dumping/burning, sewage entry and ground water contamination. If we do not take action now, the lake will go back to being a cesspool and a decade worth effort of rejuvenation and maintenance will be wasted,” the MAPSAS representative says.
A good precedent
The NGT’s order has come as a ray of hope for organisations like MAPSAS.
The NGT also ordered action to be taken based on the joint committee’s report on the larger issue of violations in the buffer zone within one month, and also expanded the scope of the matter to the nearby Kasavanahalli Lake as well.
Pursuant to the arguments by P Ramprasad, the Tribunal also granted him liberty to raise additional issues relating to the restoration of the Kaikondrahalli lake and its buffer zone as well as Kasavanahalli Lake, and permitted him to point out any deficiencies in the joint committee's report.
“While Godrej is well within its rights to approach the Supreme Court on the matter, the fact remains that the project is in violation of Kaikondrahalli Lake’s buffer zone. So, I don’t know how much good it will do them,” Ramprasad says.