PIL challenges Centre’s office memorandum permitting post facto approval for coastal projects
The Madras High Court on Wednesday sought the response of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to a public interest litigation petition which had challenged an office memorandum issued by the Ministry on February 19 permitting ex-post facto approval for activities that had been undertaken on coastal regulatory zones (CRZ) without obtaining prior approval.
Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu ordered notice to the Centre after being convinced with the submissions made by petitioner’s counsel M.V. Swaroop that certain degradations to coastal zones were irreversible and that grant of post facto approval forever, without specifying any window period, would go against the object of protecting the coastal stretches.
K. Bharathi, president of South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association, had filed the PIL petition stating that the Ministry had issued elaborate CRZ Regulations in 2011 with a view to ensure livelihood security to fisher communities and other local communities, to conserve coastal stretches, their unique environment and the marine area and to promote sustainable development.
The CRZ notification 2011 prohibited certain activities and also listed out the permissible activities that could be carried out after obtaining prior approval. The notification did not permit post-facto clearance. However, in 2018, the Ministry amended the notification and permitted post-facto clearance only for requests that had been made before June 30, 2018.
Claiming that the 2018 amendment itself was illegal, arbitrary and invalid, the petitioner said that the present office memorandum went a step ahead to permit post facto clearance for projects that had already been completed without specifying any window period. He also pointed out that the memorandum does not specify the legal provision under which it had been issued.
“It is not even a gazette notification, it is just an office memorandum. Yet, the scope of this memorandum is very wide and it had been forwarded to all State governments. Certain damages to the pristine coastal region cannot be reversed at all. The polluter says principle cannot be applied in such cases and therefore grant of post facto approval is per se illegal,” Mr. Swaroop argued.