In a massive blow to the Telangana State Power Generation Corporation Limited, the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered criminal proceedings against its officials for illegally initiating construction of the 1,080 MW Bhadradri Thermal Power Station in Khammam district without procuring the mandatory environmental clearance.
In a landmark judgement delivered on July 11, the green tribunal directed the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEF & CC) to take “appropriate criminal action [against TSGenco] under Section 15, 16 and 17 of the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986” for failing to comply with the norms of the Act.
The action, the tribunal categorically stated, must be initiated “within a period of four weeks” from the day of the order and the prosecution be “completed expeditiously”. Incidentally, the Act allows for imprisonment “for a term which may extend up to five years” and fine of up to Rs 1 lakh.
Further, lashing out at the Telangana Pollution Control Board for failing to take any against the offenders so far, it directed it to “take penal action against the officials [of TSGenco] who are responsible for such activity under the Water Act and Air Act.” Such action too, the two-member bench of the NGT noted, “shall be initiated within four weeks”.
As per the rulebook, such construction activities need a ‘Consent to Establish’ from the concerned pollution control board before commencement of any work. The TSGenco had none. It also failed to conduct any public hearing prior to initiating the project.
Trouble for the thermal power station began in October 2015 when members of the Human Rights Forum (HRF) noticed massive construction underway at the site – without a prior EC required under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006. Subsequently, the forum petitioned before the NGT which, while admitting the application on December 12, 2015, issued “an order of status quo” on the project. Yet, the construction continued.
Condemning the violation, the NGT, earlier this month, stalled all work at the site with immediate effect. While observing the impossibility of directing the demolition of the “structures already put up”, it instructed the Experts Appraisal Committee of the MoEF & CC to decide whether “proper impact assessment [of the project] is possible” now and to take a call on the fate of the project. It allowed the experts committee eight weeks’ time to communicate the same to the Union ministry.
Reacting to the “landmark” judgement passed by the NGT bench – comprising Justice P Jyothimani and P S Rao – V S Krishna, general secretary of the HRF, said: “It is a rare and extraordinary order. We now look forward to the MoEF and PCB implementing the order and initiating necessary action against those responsible for the violation.”
He added, “This order sends out a strong message to authorities who think they can get away with such brazen illegalities. Now, we hope that the experts committee rejects any further appraisal of the project.”
In its argument before the NGT, TSGenco, while refuting all charges, had justified the project on grounds that the new state of Telangana was reeling under a shortage of power – deficiency of 2,900 MW – forcing the government to purchase power from neighbouring states. This particular project, it noted, was therefore significant and had to be completed as soon as possible.
Its defence, however, has been cold-shouldered by the green tribunal. Aaron Donald Womens Jersey