Environmental issues dog Omaxe housing projects

The formation of a five-member joint committee comprising officials from various government departments by the National Green Tribunal means troubles of real estate major Omaxe Limited are far from over.  A report by SHWETA MISHRA

Abench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel has observed in his  September 13 order that “It appears to be necessary to ascertain the factual situation as well as the stand of the statutory regulators and the project proponent”. The NGT order said that the joint committee may report within two months.  The NGT has listed the matter for next hearing on January 4, 2022.

The tribunal was hearing a plea challenging the legality of constructions raised by Omaxe Limited and Omaxe Chandigarh Extension Developers Private Limited through their projects at Kansal, Rani Majra, Dhode Majra and Mullanpur in Mohali. The projects include Omaxe The Lake and Omaxe Cassia among others.  The bench led by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, Chairperson, Justice Brijesh Sethi, Judicial Member and Dr Navin Nanda, Expert Member, was hearing an appeal raising concerns regarding the construction of The Lake and also the legality of other constructions Ambrossia, Celestial Grand Floors, Celestial Royal Floors, Cassia Floors, Mulberry Villas, Silver Birch Floors allegedly in violation of EIA Notification, 2006 as well as the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (Water Act) and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EP Act). According to the plea, the constructions are in violation of Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, as well as provisions of the Water Act, 1974, and Environment Act, 1986.

It may be recalled that acting earlier on a complaint which said that ‘The Lake’, a residential complex project by Omaxe Chandigarh Extension Developers Private Limited, in New Chandigarh area was “obstructing the natural flow of Siswan river”, the National Green Tribunal had sought a report from the departments concerned of the Punjab government. The NGT had in an earlier order sought a factual and action taken report from a joint committee comprising Punjab’s Additional Chief Secretary, Housing and Urban Development, Irrigation Secretary and State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), Punjab.

The order by NGT noted that SEIAA will be the nodal agency for compliance and coordination.  The NGT order had said, “Grievance in this application is that Omaxe Chandigarh Extension Developers Private Limited had set up residential complex project called ‘The Lake’ obstructing the natural flow of river Sisvan by filling up and closing a part of it at Bharoujian village and diverting it to another place near by in Kansala, Sub-Tehsil Majri, of Mohali in Punjab. The applicant has relied upon Google image photographs showing that there was a rivulet in the year 2003 and road has been constructed without making any culvert to maintain natural flow of the river. This has resulted in potential for flooding and flooding has actually taken place”. The Centre, Punjab government, Greater Mohali Area Development Authority (GMADA), Punjab Housing and Urban Development Department, Punjab Science Technology and Environment Department, Punjab Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, Mohali deputy commissioner, Omaxe Ltd and Omaxe Chandigarh Extension Developers Private Limited were made parties to the complaint.

Citing images taken from Google Earth from 2003 till 2018, the complainants had alleged that the distinct curve taken by the river in the original flow “now does not exist at all and in that area where the river originally flowed the respondent Omaxe has constructed the project/an illegal hot mix plant and a road has come up where instead of making necessary culverts over the natural flow of the river small pipe has been put”.

The NGT  had rapped Omaxe Limited while dismissing the realty developer’s plea seeking to recall the order for formation of a committee which found it guilty of changing the course of a river.  The NGT had rejected Omaxe’s submission that there was a violation of natural justice as it was not heard while forming the committee. The Tribunal had observed that “principles of natural justice are intended to ensure fairness in procedure and they do not have any fixed content”.

Through its second-order dated March 3, 2020, the NGT had directed compliance of the recommendations of the statutory regulators. Then the NGT said that through its third-order dated October 1, 2020 it found that the real estate developer failed to comply with its earlier stand and officers of the State took contrary stands one view being that there was diversion of the river while contrary view was that there was no diversion.

Thus, the Tribunal sought reconciliation of conflict from the Chief Secretary to which no objection could be raised by anyone nor any prejudice was caused.  All throughout even without formal notice, the Omaxe was duly associated in all proceedings which is clear from the appearance of Counsel for Omaxe before this Tribunal even without any notice, the bench said.  The tribunal said that it’s last order dated February 24, 2021 was passed in the presence of counsel appearing for the builder, even though formal notice was not issued. No grievance of prejudice by earlier orders was raised.  Further, no prejudice was caused by the said order as the Committee was expressly required to give opportunity to the stakeholders and such opportunity has in fact been given.  Further, the report could be accessed from the website in terms of the said order and objections filed. Thus the prayer for recall of the said orders of the prejudice has no merit, the bench said. The tribunal said Omaxe now wants to go back from its earlier stand by raising hyper technicality in the name of natural justice. Its stand is clearly unjust and unfair and not for justice, the bench said.

The NGT said that the committee visited the site and found that the natural drainage system of the area was disturbed due to which the creek water was stagnating which could be remedied by construction of a culvert.  The tribunal had said the recommendations for remedial action by the builder is based on their own consent and attempt is now to wriggle out from the same on the basis of hyper technicality of formal notice.  There is thus absolutely no case for recall of orders nor there is any ground to reject the report of the Committee and the plea is hereby dismissed. In view of the latest observations of the National Green Tribunal giving two months time to the committee to file its report and appeal against the builder fixed for January 2022, it seems, troubles related to environmental issues concerning Omaxe are far from over.

 Omaxe fails to respond to queries

 Tehelka sought a version of Rohtas Goel, Founder and Chairman of Omaxe Limited through an email to rohtas@omaxe.com besides a WhatsApp message. However, there was no response.  We are reproducing the mail sent:

Dear Rohtas Goel,

Tehelka as you know is a media house known for free,fearless and fair journalism of courage.  Our writer for Tehelka, Shveta Mishra has filed a story for Tehelka about the ongoing issues concerning environmental violations in your housing projects including The Lake and Omaxe Cassia and legality of other constructions Ambrossia, Celestial Grand Floors, Celestial Royal Floors, Cassia Floors, Mulberry Villas, Silver Birch Floors allegedly in violation of EIA Notification, 2006 as well as the provisions of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 (Water Act) and the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (EP Act).As a responsible media house, we would like to have your version as Founder and Chairman of Omaxe Limited to go with the story. Please send your reply in the next three days so that your response is incorporated in the story.