Gurugram Developer Penalised Rs 100 Crore by Central Pollution Monitoring Body
Image Courtesy: Tribune India
New Delhi: Real estate conglomerate Ansal Group has been imposed a hefty penalty of Rs 100 crore by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for violation of various environmental norms in a residential project in Gurugram in Haryana. In a letter issued on June 7, the board, a statutory organisation under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEF&CC), has directed the developer to pay the penalty within 15 days, failing which an additional amount will be charged as interest in accordance with rules.
The developer, Ansal Properties and Infrastructure Limited, had allegedly not obtained environmental clearance for its Sushant Lok Phase I project as is required under Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006. The project is spread over a massive area of nearly 245 hectares across sectors 27, 28, 43 and 52 of Gurugram.
Further, the developer had not obtained consent from the Haryana State Pollution Control Board for establishing and operating the project.
Besides, no permission was sought by the developer from Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) for extracting underground water in the township. The developer will also have to pay an additional penalty, over and above the Rs 100 crore, for alleged illegal extraction of groundwater and faulty rainwater harvesting systems installed by it, apart from obtaining all relevant permissions and clearances from concerned authorities.
“To pay additional Environmental Compensation as determined by Central Ground Water Authority on account of extraction of ground water without permission and defunct rainwater harvesting system in Sushantlok (sic), Phase-1, Gurugram … Any violations of this direction shall attract appropriate legal action, without any further notice, in accordance with the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986,” the letter from the CPCB has stated.
The hefty penalty has been imposed upon the developer after repeated entreaties made by the CPCB to the developer since June 2019 to pay up a sum of Rs 12.18 crore (approximately) on account of discharging untreated sewage water were not acknowledged. This penalty was imposed upon the developer based on the “polluter pays principle,” as per which the agency that is held responsible for causing pollution is also made to pay for the damages inflicted upon the environment.
The scale of compensation was revised upwards by the CPCB following a direction that was issued on September 28, 2019, by a four-judge bench of the National Green Tribunal in New Delhi headed by its chairperson, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
“Violations found in the present case include the absence of EC [Environmental Clearance], Consent to Establish, Consent to Operate and consent for extraction of groundwater. The compensation assessed is only on account of untreated sewage water discharge and illegal extraction of groundwater. No compensation has been assessed for establishing the project without prior EC… The scale of compensation, thus, needs to be revised,” the bench had stated in its order.
Initially, the CPCB had imposed the penalty of Rs 12.18 crore upon the Ansal Group only on account of discharging untreated sewage into stormwater drains though the developer had been found to have committed graver environmental violations.
An expert panel constituted by the green tribunal in September 2018 found several environmental violations and shortcomings in the Sushant Lok Phase I project in Gurugram. Apart from not obtaining environmental clearance, the developer was also found to have exceeded the threshold limit of the project, in terms of its area, in gross violation of what has been prescribed in the EIA Notification, 2006.
In its report submitted to the NGT, the panel listed as many as 10 environmental violations committed by the private developer at its project site in Gurugram. Apart from failing to obtain environmental clearances and necessary consent from the regional pollution control board, the panel had found various constructions on areas earmarked as green areas in the project site. The developer had applied for registration of as many as 39 tube wells in the project site without obtaining the necessary clearance of the CGWA.
While rainwater harvesting systems had not been installed in residential houses in the project, those installed in open areas and green belts were non-functional. Untreated sewage water was being discharged into storm water drains. There was no effective solid waste management system in the project while roads, footpaths and parks were also not being maintained properly. The developer was also causing air pollution at the project site by not maintaining an adequate height of chimneys of exhaust fumes of diesel-run power generator backup sets.
On January 8 2019, the green tribunal had ordered the CPCB to issue directions for the closure of the project and take steps to determine and recover damages caused to the environment by the project proponent by violating environmental regulations. Subsequently, on February 28, 2019, the CPCB issued a notice to the developer directing for payment of a sum of Rs 12.18 crore but only on account of discharging untreated sewage into stormwater drains.
A query was emailed to the chairperson and the member-secretary of CPCB, asking why no compensation had been initially determined against the developer on account of the other environmental violations, including not obtaining prior environmental clearance and failing to obtain consent for establishment and operation from Haryana Pollution Control Board. No response had been received at the time that this article was published.
Nevertheless, following the penalty order issued in February 2019, the developer communicated its complete denial of directions issued by CPCB and the green tribunal. In a letter dated March 13, 2019, the developer questioned the “authority and powers” delegated to CPCB by the act of law and the green tribunal. The letter did not mention any action plan devised by it to restitute the environment, nor did it mention allegations of illegal groundwater extraction in the Sushant Lok Phase I project.
The developer was emailed a questionnaire too on behalf of NewsClick, asking, amongst other queries, about the reasons behind the non-payment of penalties to date to the CPCB. This article will be updated as and when the developer responds to the queries.
Notwithstanding the fact that the developer had questioned the very authority of CPCB, in June 2019, the latter issued another letter asking it to deposit a sum of Rs 14.69 crores on account of the discharge of untreated sewage into stormwater drains. The penalty amount had now increased because the developer had not stopped discharging untreated sewage since CPCB first issued an order in February 2019.
Through this letter, the developer was also asked to stop all construction activities in the project immediately. The developer never responded to this letter. Again, the developer did not respond to yet another letter issued by the CPCB in October 2019 asking for an update on action taken in the matter.
In November 2021, the CPCB shot off another letter to the developer asking it to furnish details of the cost of the Sushant Lok Phase I project as well as details of action taken by the developer in pursuance of directions issued by it as well as the green tribunal. There was no response by the developer to this letter. There was no response to yet another reminder to the developer in December 2021.
In September 2021, the CPCB had been asked by the green tribunal to take action against the developer in accordance with statutory powers vested in it. In accordance with the directions of the green tribunal, the penalty amount was calculated by CPCB based on a Supreme Court judgement in which an environmental compensation at the rate of 10% of total project cost, or Rs 100 crore (whichever was higher) had been ordered for a separate developer on account of various violations. The CPCB finalised a penalty of Rs 100 crore for the Ansal Group since 10% of the project cost was found to be lower than this amount.
The writer is an independent journalist.
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