Environmental Impact Assessments, Forests, Inspections, Land Use, Jurisdiction, Property, Standing, Permits
The substantial issue involved in all these writ petitions and connected writ appeal pertains to the decision taken by the Government of Tamil Nadu to allot an extent of 70 acres of land and the consequential entry permission given to the municipalities of Ambattur, Maduravoyal, Thiruverkadu, Valasaravakkam and Poonamallee and Porur Town Panchayat to establish their Solid Waste Management Plant in Kuthambakkam Village in the District of Thiruvallur. In a petition, S. Nandakumar, president of Kuthambakkam panchayat, stated to be a model village and nominated for the UN Habitat Award, said the livelihood of the people of the village was agriculture. Most of them solely relied on livestock. The cattle depended on common grazing lands where the government had decided to set up the SWMP. There is a prescribed procedure as contained under Section 134 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act and Rules 3 and 4 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Restriction and Control to Regulate the use of Porombokes in Ryotwari Tracts) Rules, 2000, in the matter of taking over the land for any other specific purpose. Section 134 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act provides that the porambokes namely, grazing grounds, threshing floors, burning and burial grounds, cattle-stands, cart-stands and topes shall vest in the village panchayat and the panchayat shall have power to regulate the use of such porambokes. Section 134(3) authorises the Collector, after consulting the Village Panchayat to exclude the land from the operation of the Act. However the said procedure was not followed by the District Collector. Effective consultation made by the District Collector was only after granting entry permission by the Government as per G.O.Ms.No.78 dated 23 February, 2009. Therefore mandatory consultation process was not resorted to by the District Collector before recommending the case to the Government. Disposing of the appeal and writ petitions, the Bench said though it was of the view that no interference was called for in the order passed by the government as well as the order of the District Collector in view of the larger public interest involved in establishing garbage disposal plant and the developments which have taken place subsequently, it would make the legal position clear — before taking action under Section 134 (3) of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act (Village panchayat to regulate the use of certain porombokes in ryotwari tracts), the concerned panchayat should be consulted. The Bench also indicated the importance of public hearing and the need to ascertain the views of the affected persons by authorities before giving environmental clearance. the public consultative process is an essential component in the process of environmental impact assessment. Therefore, any violation of the mandatory procedure in the matter of conducting public hearing and recording the views or objections of the affected persons would give the aggrieved a cause of action to challenge the legality and correctness of the public hearing proceedings, without waiting for the final outcome of the impact assessment proceedings. The court directed the EIAA to give a copy of the application by the municipalities and the panchayat for granting environmental clearance for establishing the facility, to the Kuthambakkam panchayat so as to enable the petitioner to submit the views or objections in the matter. The Kuthambakkam panchayat and the local affected persons should be given an opportunity to offer their comments during the public hearing. The court said that in case the EIAA rejected the application for environmental clearance, liberty is given to the Kuthambakkam panchayat to approach the government for cancellation of allotment to the local bodies, in view of the statement made by the Advocate-General.