In a major development with regard to Telangana's Palmuru-Ranga Reddy Lift Irrigation Scheme (PRLIS), the National Green Tribunal appointed an independent commission on Tuesday to look into alleged irregularities and illegalities in the project's construction work.
The NGT was hearing a petition by Harshvardhan Reddy, who claimed that the state had not followed the rules while going ahead with first phase of PRLIS works, which passes through Amrabad-Srisailam-Nagarjunasagar Tiger reserve areas
As per the rules, the state has to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, before any work in a reserve forest area.
The petitioner reportedly alleged that the PRLIS was an irrigation project, being labelled as a drinking water project, and added that the state government cut down roughly 279 hectares of forest, without permission.
Meanwhile, the government's counsel claimed that the work was aimed at providing drinking water to 1,131 villages as it made its way to Hyderabad city, and would also be used for industrial purposes in three districts of the state.
The counsel also assured the state that the irrigation work would be completed only after taking necessary permissions.
After hearing both sides, the NGT constituted the commission, with Professor Yusuf, a retired NGT expert member as its chairman.
The NGT bench asked the commission to submit its findings by July 19.
In January this year, the Hyderabad High Court set aside a stay order issued by the NGT on the PRLIS.
The state government had moved the HC, after the Chennai Bench of the NGT told Telangana not go ahead with the first phase of the project, on December 13.
The NGT had criticised the state for starting construction, even though it had not obtained the necessary environmental clearances.
However, Telangana argued that the stay order was issued without the state's version even being heard.
It also made the same argument in front of the HC, saying that the initial part of the project sought to meet the drinking water needs of three districts, and it did not require environmental clearances for the same.
The court told the Telangana government that it could go ahead with the drinking water part of the project, but would still need to obtain the necessary clearances for the irrigation part of the project.