The Delhi High Court has stayed two notifications of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) granting exemption from environmental clearance (EC) for building projects up to 50,000 sq. metres built up area and 1,50,000 sq. metres in case of industrial sheds, educational institutions and hospitals. In second week of November, the MoEF had come out with a new notification increasing the threshold limit to 50,000 sq. metres for granting exemption from environmental clearance. The government had then stated that the increase in the threshold limit had become necessary to streamline the process to achieve housing for all by 2022 with the objective of making available affordable housing to weaker section in urban areas. It was also aimed at improving the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ climate in the country.
However, a bench of justices Ravindra Bhat and Prateek Jalan of Delhi HC on Monday passed the interim order on a plea by an NGO challenging the November 14 and 15 notifications of the ministry, alleging that they were violative of fundamental rights to protect life and personal liberty and equality before law. The court sought response of the MoEF on the petition and listed the matter for further hearing on February 19, next year.
The petition filed by NGO Social Action for Forest and Environment (SAFE) pleaded that the government be directed to follow the principle of non-regression in both letter and spirit and not to dilute or relax environment norms without any reasonable basis. The plea said that by the two recent notifications, the ministry has substantially amended the EIA notification of September 14, 2006.
It alleged that the notifications were ultra vires the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act and the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of September 2006, Air Pollution Act and Water Pollution Act. The 2006 EIA notification has a comprehensive process for evaluating the impact on environment, by providing for an expert appraisal committee at the Centre and the state expert committee at the state level which consists of independent experts, environmental quality experts and sectoral experts.