MoEF grants conditional go ahead to Lavasa

Mumbai: The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) on Wednesday granted `conditional` permission to Lavasa Corporation to complete its under-construction buildings at its housing project site near Pune even as the realty firm backtracked on its plea to withdraw the petition challenging the stop-work notice issued by the Ministry.

According to the affidavit filed by the MoEF before the Bombay High Court, its expert committee has "permitted" the Lavasa Corporation to complete construction of 257 buildings which are above the plinth level at its hill city.

"In view of the investments made and taking note of the hardships faced by the petitioners (Lavasa) and pending construction work of 257 buildings, which are above plinth level, construction is permitted with some conditions," the affidavit filed by Deputy Director of the MOEF said.

Simultaneously, senior counsels Mukul Rohatgi and Janak Dwarkadas, appearing for Lavasa, told the High Court that the petitioner would like to withdraw their petition challenging the stop-work notice issued by the MoEF last year.

They told the court that Lavasa would pursue its application filed before the MoEF seeking clearance for the housing project coming up in Pune district.

Lavasa, however, backtracked after the division bench of justices Ranjana Desai and R G Ketkar refused to lift the stay on the stop-work notice. The bench said let the MoEF hear the Lavasa`s application and take a final decision on it.

"Initially, we (Lavasa) had said that the MOEF has no jurisdiction to issue stop-work notice. But today, we agree that clearance from the Ministry is required. Lavasa is losing Rs 5 crore everyday since the construction has been stopped.

Till date, the loss has been Rs 300 crore," Rohatgi submitted.

The Lavasa Corporation, a subsidiary of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), had challenged in Bombay High Court the November 25 notice of MoEF for not obtaining mandatory permission under the Environment Protection Act before starting the project in 2004.

Lavasa had claimed in its petition that it is a tourism project and was based on the state hill tourism policy, formulated by the state government, allowing the Rs 2,000-crore project to come up.

Additional Solicitor General Darius Khambata appearing for MoEF said "The experts committee formed to look into the issue has already submitted its report reaffirming the stop work notice. There are several violations. Let Lavasa approach the ministry, which would hear the matter and give its decision. It might lead to prosecution or penalty or clearance."