Five days after NCP chief and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar’s meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the Environment Ministry granted clearance for the first phase of Lavasa’s multi-crore hill city project near Pune albeit with “strict compliance” of certain terms and conditions.
Pawar had met Sonia, along with party and Cabinet colleague Praful Patel, at her residence in New Delhi on November 4.
Their meeting was supposed to have taken place after seven months and “cleared” a lot misunderstanding between the two parties. Pawar is said to have a lot of political and business stakes in the success of Lavasa project, according to both sides.
It was no coincidence that their meeting took place just before a Bombay High Court deadline expiring for the Maharashtra government to initiate criminal proceedings against the Lavasa Corporation for violating environmental norms.
Just before Pawar drove to Sonia’s home, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had met her.
On November 9, a government order said, “The (Environment) Ministry, hereby, accords environmental clearance for the project as per provisions of Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006 and its subsequent amendments, subject to strict compliance of terms and conditions.”
Earlier, Chavan had okayed filing a case against the promoters of Lavasa Hill City for alleged violations of the Environment Protection Act (EPA)– as filing of the case under the EPA was one of the key pre-conditions of the Environment Ministry for granting clearance to the first phase of the project.
“We have now got environment clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the stakeholders will be happy to hear this,” said a relieved Ajit Gulabchand, Chairman, Lavasa Corporation, who is very close to Pawar.
The new conditions laid for the project include demarcation of land usage which includes open spaces, diverting five per cent of its expenses for corporate social responsibility, creation of an environment restoration fund, which in turn will be monitored by a verification and monitoring committee and a submission by the company that violations would not be repeated.
With Pawar-Sonia truce, NCP’s Maharastra environment Sachir Ahir said, “I don’t see any major hurdle in the way.”
Chavan thought it was best to take the matter to Sonia as it involved sensitive NCP-Congress ties. Pawar returned the favour by fully backing the hike in prices of oil products when another UPA ally, Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress turned recalcitrant.
Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule and her husband, Sadanand Sule, had a 21.97 per cent stake in the Lavasa Corporation between 2002 and 2004, and they sold it later. On October 20, the Bombay High Court set a two-week deadline for the government to take action against Lavasa for violations under Section 15 of the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986.
The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), which has filed a writ petition against Lavasa, named as accused 27 persons, including Supriya Sule and the former and existing directors of Lavasa.