India: 5-star hotel under lens for green ‘violation’

MUMBAI: The city’s latest five-star, the 40-storey Shangri-La Hotel at Lower Parel, is already partially occupied, but the entire structure appears to have been built without the requisite state and central environment clearances.

The State Expert Appraisal Committee-2 (SEAC-2), which is headed by former environment secretary Ravi Budhiraja, has directed the state environment department to verify if there was a violation and initiate legal action under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), 1986. The SEAC-2 gives eco-clearance for buildings in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, after which clearance must be given by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA). Final clearance must come from the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests (MoEF), which under the EPA clears all buildings with a built-up area of over 2 lakh sq ft.

The hotel’s owner, Pune-based builder Avinash Bhosale, who is reportedly close to a senior NCP leader and Union minister, was unavailable for comment. However, his son Amit Bhosale said the SEAC-2’s ruling was not final. “We have been called for another hearing to make a presentation. It would be too early to jump to conclusions,” he said.

The SEAC-2 noted that the hotel, with a total built-up area of around 14.3 lakh sq ft, has been completely constructed. “As per the provisions of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 1994 as amended on July 7, 2004 and EIA Notification 2006, environmental clearance should have been obtained before the start of construction. Therefore the project under consideration appears to be in violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986. The SEIAA/environment department after due verification may initiate legal action.”

The lack of clearances came to light when the proprietors, after having constructed around 14 lakh sq ft, wanted to expand the hotel by approximately another 35,000 sq ft. For the expansion, they approached the BMC for additional floor space index, which the BMC allowed subject to state environment clearance. Civic sources said the developers paid approximately Rs 65 crore as premium for the same and went ahead and built the 35,000 sq ft.

However, when the developers went to the SEAC for clearance, the panel pointed out that no green clearance had been got for even the initial 14 lakh sq ft. At that point the developers presented a 2005 No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) which waived off the requirement for an environment clearance. Based on the NOC, the developers constructed the initial 14 lakh sq ft. The developers then also asked for the entire 14.3 lakh sq ft to be cleared.

The SEAC in May this year directed the state environment department to submit a report on whether the MPCB was a competent authority to issue such an NOC.

The BMC issued a commencement certificate in 2004 and subsequently amended plans in 2004, 2007, 2010 and even 2012. It granted a part Occupation Certificate in 2010. The SEAC has also asked for an investigation into the sanctions granted by the BMC, and suitable action in case of wrongdoing.

State environment secretary Valsa Nair-Singh said the department was looking into the case. “The investigation is not complete,” she said. Budhiraja told TOI that the SEAC was awaiting the environment department’s report. “Based on the report we shall recommend action,” he said.

Activist and lawyer Y P Singh said the EPA spelled out two possible actions. “First, file a First Information Report since it is a cognisable and non-bailable offence. That would help in a proper investigation and enable the collection of evidence. Second, a complaint can also be filed in a metropolitan magistrate’s court without approaching the police,” he said.

 

Source: Times of India

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