NEW DELHI: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has levied a fine of over Rs 113 crore against a Noida-based real estate firm in Noida for violating environmental laws. The Tribunal stated that the prolonged inaction by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for over nine years fueled these breaches, and when the steps were finally taken, they were narrow in scope.
The NGT said that the ED had overlooked the expansion of the scope of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) and that revenue obtained through the commission of such crimes was considered proceeds of crime as defined by the law.
A petition alleging environmental norms violations by Uppal Chadha Hi Tech Developers Pvt. Ltd. in its Hi-Tech township across 14 villages in the Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar districts of Uttar Pradesh was being heard by the green panel.
A bench consisting of Chairperson Justice a K Goel noted that the project proponent (PP) violated several environmental norms and remedial action for the restoration of the environment required the proponent to pay environmental compensation on the basis of the polluter pays principle.
The bench also consisting of Judicial Member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Expert Member A Senthil Vel computed environmental compensation at 0.75 per cent of the total project cost.
“Environmental compensation of Rs 113.25 crore shall be paid by the PP, and be deposited with the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) within three months,” it said.
Punitive action such as criminal prosecution would also be justified against the PP, said the bench.
The green panel said in the present case, environmental norms were not followed and this resulted in a “scheduled offense”. The revenue earned by committing such a crime is the proceeds of the crime as defined in the PMLA, it said.
Further, showing the revenue as business proceeds amounted to projecting or claiming it as untainted property, and the entire activity has been covered under Section 3 (offence of money laundering) of the PMLA, it said.
“The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had been taking action under PMLA in a narrow sphere. It has been forgotten to take note of the fact that the scope of the PMLA has been enhanced or widened, a lot, at least after the amendment Act of 2012 with effect from February 15, 2013,” the tribunal said.
It said more than nine and a half years have passed but not a “single action” was taken by the ED against violators committing offenses under environmental statutes, included in the Act.
“Since the competent authority has never resorted to proceeding against violators of environmental statutes… this inaction has encouraged polluters to continue violations with impunity,” the tribunal said.
It also said the intention to treat environmental violations as serious offenses were “frustrated” by the enforcement machinery and it was incumbent upon authorities to at least take action against resourceful and powerful violators.
“Our endeavor was to highlight inapt attitude and apathy towards enforcement of laws enacted to give teeth to environmental laws but responsible authorities find it convenient to put these laws in hibernation,” the tribunal’s bench said.
It then said it was open to the competent authority to take appropriate action against the PP under the provisions of the PMLA.
The tribunal also highlighted the importance of levying a substantive amount as environmental compensation.
“When we talk of environmental compensation for causing degradation to the environment and for its restoration or remediation, it is not a formal or casual or symbolic amount which is required to be levied upon the violation and it is a substantive and adequate amount which must be levied for the restoration of the environment,” he said.
It said the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had been “very lenient” towards violators by determining a symbolic amount.
“Nature is precious and the elements of nature like air, water, light and soil in a materialistic manner may not be priced appropriately and adequately. Most of the time, whenever the price is determined, it may be extremely low or highly exorbitant meaning thereby disproportionate ,” the tribunal said.
(With input from PTI)

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