Upholding a National Green Tribunal Order, the Supreme Court imposed damages of Rs.100 crores or 10% of the project cost, whichever is higher, on Goel Ganga Developers India Pvt. Ltd. for raising construction in violation of the Environmental Clearance.
The bench comprising of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta also upheld the fine imposed upon the PMC and the direction given to the PMC to take appropriate action against the erring officials.
Tanaji Balasaheb Gambhire approached the NGT claiming that the project proponent (PP) i.e. M/s. Goel Ganga Developers India Pvt. Ltd., had raised construction in violation of the Environmental Clearance granted for the project and also in violation of the various municipal laws.
The NGT directed PP To pay environmental compensation cost of Rs. 100 crores or 5% (Five percent) of the total cost of project to be assessed by SEAC. PP was also directed to pay a sum of Rs. 5 crores for contravening mandatory provision of several Environmental Laws in carrying out the construction activities in addition to and exceeding limit of the available environment clearance and for not obtaining the consent from the Board. It also imposed fine of Rs. 5 Lakhs upon the PMC and direct Commissioner PMC to take appropriate action against the erring officers. .It also directed the Chief Secretary, State of Maharashtra and the competent authority to take notice of the conduct of the officers concerned who have misled the Department of Environment in the matter relating to interpretation of F.S.I and BUA in terms of which order dated 31st May, 2016 has been issued in particular the Principal Secretary, Department of Environment who has authored the order dated 31st May, 2016.
Against this order, both the Pune Municipal Corporation and the Project proponent approached the Apex court. While this appeal was pending, the applicant filed review before NGT which modified environmental compensation as 190 Crores. Thereafter the applicant also filed appeal challenging the original order as well as reviewed order praying that demolition of the illegal structures be ordered and the compensation be enhanced to Rs.500 crores.
The SC Order
All these appeals were disposed of with following directives by the bench comprising of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta.
- We uphold the original order dated 27.09.2016 holding that the construction raised by the project proponent was in violation of the environmental clearance granted to it on 04.04.2008. We uphold the fine imposed upon the PMC and the direction given to the PMC to take appropriate action against the erring officials. We also uphold the direction given to the Chief Secretary to the State of Maharashtra and in addition, direct that the Chief Secretary to the State of Maharashtra shall look into the conduct of the official holding the post of Principal Secretary (Environment) to the Government of Maharashtra on 27.09.2016 and will submit his report to the NGT within three months from today;
- We impose damages of Rs.100 crores or 10% of the project cost, whichever is higher on the project proponent and in addition thereto, project proponent will pay Rs.5 crores as levied by the NGT in its order dated 27.09.2016;
- Project proponent shall not be permitted to raise construction of two buildings having 454 tenements;
- We direct that the project proponent shall only be permitted to complete construction of a total 807 flats, 117 shops/offices and cultural centre including clubhouse;
- The project proponent will only be permitted to seek environmental clearance for completion of the project subject to payment of costs in the aforesaid terms and it may be granted ex post facto environmental clearance in the peculiar facts of the case, on such terms and conditions as the environmental authority deems fit and proper;
- The project proponent is granted six months’ time to deposit the amount of damages imposed in terms of direction no. (ix) supra in the Registry of this Court. In case the project proponent does not deposit the amount within six months then all the assets of the project proponent i.e. M/s. Goel Ganga Developers India Pvt. Ltd., as well as its Directors, shall be attached and the amount of damages shall be recovered by sale of those assets. It is further directed that in case this amount is not deposited within the period of six months then the licence/registration/permission granted to M/s. Goel Ganga Developers India Pvt. Ltd. to develop any “real estate project” within the meaning of the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 shall be cancelled and the project proponent i.e. M/s. Goel Ganga Developers India Pvt. Ltd. and its Directors shall not be granted permission to develop any “real estate project” under the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Act, 2016 without permission of this Court.
Demolition Is Not The Answer
The bench also rejected the prayer seeking demolition by observing thus: “Keeping in view the interest of these third parties who were not parties before the NGT, we are of the view that in the peculiar facts and circumstances of the case, demolition is not the answer. This would put innocent people at loss. Normally, this Court is loathe to legalize illegal constructions but in the present case we have no option but to do so.”