By Bhamy V. Shenoy
Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP)
The news item titled “Stalled Development atop Chamundi Hill begins: Green Tribunal gives green signal,” published in Star of Mysore dated May 11, was shocking for the reasons given in this article. The SOM story clearly shows how the authorities concerned are clearly in the dark about the needed Environmental Clearance (EC), the role of National Green Tribunal (NGT) and failure to comply with the restrictions imposed by State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SLEIAA). Though it may not be the intention of the local authorities to mislead the public, it creates a wrong impression with the public that everything is hunky dory on the legal front.
When MGP came to know that the government was hell bent on going ahead with the construction of multi-level parking, shops, shelter for pilgrims, etc., spending Rs. 78 crore (all of it from the offerings to Chamundeshwari), MGP filed a case against it in NGT Chennai. However, the NGT returned our file purely on some formalities (not enough number of copies, no English translation of two appendixes, no proper MGP stamp, etc).
It is not correct on the part of the authorities to claim that they have the clearance from NGT. In addition, NGT is not the authority to approve the construction, and it is only a body with legal jurisdiction to settle environmental disputes expeditiously.
When MGP met the then DC C. Shikha (meeting took place on June 23, 2016 because of several public protests), she asked the authorities to stop the construction until they complete an Environmental Management Plan (EMP). MGP was demanding a full-blown Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as per the regulations but could not convince the authorities. When a project has total construction of more than 20,000 sq. mtrs, and expenditure of Rs. 78 crore it needs an EIA. EMP can be completed only after that.
In the event only a cursory EMP was completed in record time of about two months and submitted to State body. There was no public hearing or exchange of information. When EMP was completed, no copy was shared with MGP nor was it shared with the public or media as though it is a “confidential” report. Actually, it is not.
MGP tried to get a copy by approaching the DC’s office and we were asked to contact PWD office. However, several efforts to get the report from PWD did not succeed. Usual bureaucratic response like the report is available on the internet and when we complained that we could not access it, they promised to give a hard copy. But MGP never got it.
Only when SOM published the story about the clearance and we searched for any latest development on the internet, we were able to get access to the so-called Environmental Clearance (EC) dated 26.9.2016.
Let me give two important clauses from that report to show how the requirements on PWD put by SLEIAA have not been met:
Construction Phase Clause – 3 clearly states that should there be any noise pollution, construction may have to be stopped. When we learnt about dynamite being used on the hill soon after the construction restarted, we complained to the authorities. There was no action taken by the authority.
Part B Clause 9 states that within 7 days of getting the EC, information on EC should be advertised in two leading papers. To the best of our knowledge there has been no such advertising of the information before the work was restarted.
SLEIAA has specifically asked for the justification for 600 car parking. This is an important requirement and to the best of our knowledge no scientific study has been conducted to assess why one needs car parking and that too for 600 cars when during the busy period of ashada masa it is possible for authorities to handle the traffic without allowing any private cars to ply. On other days do we need parking facilities for 600 cars? In fact, a proper study would have showed that the multi-level parking will not be used just like the guest house today is not in use. It is surprising that SLEIAA did not ask to prove the need for 116 shops either. Do visitors come to Chamundi to shop? Is there any reason to construct a ‘shopping mall’ on the market?
What is surprising is that the SLEIAA seems to be totally oblivious of the fragile ecological balance on the hill and how it may affect flora and fauna. There are several rare species of birds, reptiles, medicinal plants and EC which has so many clauses in its EC has no mention of this issue at all. This clearly shows how the State authorities have only done a cursory EMP at best to get an EC from SLEIAA.
It is for the above reasons, MGP is now filing the case in the Supreme Court. Another reason for this clarification is that even now it is not too late to stop the work atop Chamundi Hill if Mysureans get involved and put pressure on our CM. We need to stop the work before more money is spent.
Let us learn from the example of Bengaluru where they prevented construction of overhead steel bridge by participating in the protest in large numbers. Future generation will certainly blame us if we do not succeed in preventing the vandalisation of Chamundi Hill, the most important ecological heritage of Mysuru.