Shimla: Taking a tough stance on ‘irresponsible and frivolous’ PILs the HP High Court on Wednesday imposed Rs 1.25 lakhs costs on 5 petitioners for opposing a 180 MW hydropower project by holding them to against larger public interest.
Dismissing two public interest litigations seeking stalling of the hydropower project on Ravi River, the division bench of Chief Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice RB Mishra observed that “the petitions as filed by the villagers are not only mischievous but also motivated.”
Opposing the project allotted to GMR group through international competitive bidding, the petitioners had challenged its execution on the grounds that the promoter had unilaterally shifted the project to the left bank where as it was originally proposed on the right, it was being set up in violation of environment laws and for not having obtained clearance under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) 2006 Act.
Upholding the company’s contention for shifting of the project site from one bank to the other the judges observed, “we are more than satisfied that requisite procedure has been followed and due diligence has been taken by all concerned before granting approval / permission for shifting of the project on the left bank, instead of the original proposal.
Taking cognizance of a comparative table for left bank and right bank sites, the order records that whereas only two families are likely to be displaced on the left bank site against 40 families for the right bank, adverse impact on the environment would be far severe if the project were to be setup on the right bank.
Regarding environmental concerns the judges noted that the project had been approved by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
About not adhering to the forest rights of tribal’s, the judges relied on a chief ministers communication with MoEF stating that all such rights in Himachal Pradesh stood settled and recorded in settlement reports.
The respondent company GMR Bajoli Holi Hydro Power Pvt Ltd, setting up the Rs 500 crore let the court know that it “must be loath to interfere at this stage when the project proponent has acted to its detriment on the basis of the approval/permission given by the competent Authorities.
Pleading for imposing exemplary costs on the petitioners, the respondent company recorded before the court that it had secured the project through open competitive international bidding, which were invited in August 2007.
At the time of pre-implementation agreement, the company on 15.2.2008 had paid Rs 42 crore as upfront money and the detailed project report was submitted within specified time on 18.11.2009.
No objection certificates were given by the 5 panchyats in the project zone and public hearing was held on more than one occasion. All objections raised during the said meetings were discussed and solution was offered.
About 90 percent land required for the project had been acquired at a cost of Rs 4 crores.
It is only after much of the process has been completed and approval obtained that the two public interest litigations through the same lawyer were filed in Feb 12 and November 2012.
With the petitioners unable to offer any explanation for the delays in filing the writ petitions the judges observed, “such action must be held to be against the larger public interest; and is not a genuine public interest litigation”
Dismissing the two PIL the court imposed costs on the petitioners that are to be paid to the respondents.
Each of the five petitioners, within 4 weeks, have been asked to pay Rs 25,000 each to MoEF, HP State Pollution Control Board, HPSEB, HP Forest Department and GMR company.