A ghost tree, also known as the Kulu tree, stands in the forests that make up Sanjay Gandhi National Park. (Photographer: Anish Andheria)

Supreme Court Suspends Environmental Clearance Granted To Goa’s Mopa Airport

The Supreme Court suspended the environmental clearance granted for an international airport at Mopa in Goa and directed the Expert Appraisal Committee to revisit the decision in light of its impact on ecology.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta said EAC, as an expert body, abdicated its role and function by taking into account circumstances which were extraneous to the exercise of its power and failed to notice facets of the environment that were crucial to its decision-making.

It said a glaring deficiency which emerges from the Environmental Impact Assessment report is its failure to notice the existence of ecologically sensitive zones of Western Ghats within a buffer distance of 10 km of the project site.

"The EAC shall carry out the exercise within a month of the receipt of a certified copy of this order. Until the EAC carries out the fresh exercise as directed above, the environmental clearance granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on Oct. 28, 2015 shall remain suspended," the bench said.

The court also said that if the EAC allows the construction to proceed then it will impose such additional conditions which in its expert view will adequately protect the concerns about the terrestrial ecosystems.

The EAC would be at liberty to lay down appropriate conditions concerning air, water, noise, land, biological and socio-economic environment, the top court said.

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"The EAC shall have due regard to the assurance furnished by the concessionaire to this court that it is willing to adopt and implement necessary safeguards bearing in mind international best practices governing greenfield airports," the bench said.

It granted liberty to the Goa government, project proponent and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to file the report of the EAC before it so as to facilitate the passing of appropriate orders in the proceedings and held that no other court or tribunal should entertain any challenge to the report.

"Bearing in view the necessity to maintain a balance between the need for an airport and environmental concerns, we are of the view that it would be appropriate if the EAC is directed to revisit the conditions subject to which it granted its environmental clearance on the basis of the specific concerns which have been highlighted," it said.

The top court was hearing an appeal filed against the National Green Tribunal's Aug. 21, 2018 judgment which had refused to quash the environmental clearance for development of Greenfield International Airport at Mopa in Goa.

The tribunal said it was not a case where the project compromises with the environment, as claimed by the appellants but at the same time further safeguards for environment protection need to be incorporated.

The NGT judgment came on a plea by Federation of Rainbow Warriors and Hanuman Laxman Aroskar who had challenged the grant of environmental clearance to the project.

According to the appellants, Goa's water resources are facing severe crisis, Goa has scarcity of land for housing and food or for buffer zones. The Project Proponent concealed vital facts regarding the need for the environmental and socio-economic aspects.

"The report of the public hearing was not made available to the inhabitants. The same was in English language. The baseline data was three years old. Before public hearing was held, vested interest mobilise political workers from outside.

"While police force was brought to the place of hearing, the villagers could not attend the hearing or could not voice their opinions dais was far away from the attendees," the plea said.

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