Published On : Tue, Jun 9th, 2020

HC Issues Notice To MPCB, Chief Secretray In Public Hearing By Zoom App

Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court

Nagpur: In a significant development, the Hon’ble Bombay High Court at Nagpur Bench comprising of Justice Ravi Deshpande and Justice Amit Borkar has issued notice to state government of Maharashtra through its Chief Secretary, Revenue Department, and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board in a PIL filed by Shri SudhirPaliwal{convenor of Vidarbha Environment Action Group} challenging the illegal public hearings being conducted by MPCB all over the state Zoom App for grant of Environmental Clearance for sand mining projects.

According to the petitioner the Public Hearings are being conducted all over Maharashtra on Zoom App during Lock down period so as to prevent the “affected persons” from rural areas to raise their objections. The counsel for petitioner Dr. Tushar Mandlekar argued that this Zoom Hearing is illegal as it is violative of EIA Notification 2006 issued u/r 5 of Environmental Rules 1986. The “widest possible participation of affected persons and stakeholders” is not possible on Zoom App as most of the rural persons are not literate and are not technosavy.

It was argued that the Ministry of Home Affairs has already issued an advisory to all State Governments on 16-04-2020 that “official working” of government should not be done on Zoom App as it is unsafe. In spite of such advisory and in spite of inability expressed by many District Collectors the Additional Secretary Revenue Department has issued a notification on 27-04-2020 to conduct the public hearing on Zoom App. He argued further that large number of citizens residing in rural areas will loose their “fundamental right” to raise objection and give suggestion to sand mining projects across region.

It was argued that State Government has no powers to frame any protocol or guidelines or rules as the power to frame rules related to “Public Hearing” lies with the Central Government u/s 6, 25 of Environment Protection Act 1986.

It was also pointed out that the public hearing needs to be opposed and cancelled immediately as during lockdown period of Covid – 19 Government of India and State Government on 31-05-2020 has prohibited assembly of people in public places and auditoriums, assembly halls are prohibited to be used. Citizens are facing Covid-19 situation in exceptional medical emergency. The action of organizing public hearing on Zoom App is depriving majority of “illiterate population” from rural areas to raise their voice against sand mining projects and state government is deliberately conducting such hearings in complete violation of EIA Notification and Rules 1986.

The petitioner prayed for cancellation of all such Public Hearings conducted on Zoom Apps by various District Collectors, like Nagpur, Chandrapur, Gadchiroli, Yaotmal etc. The High Court has issued notices to respondents and directed them to file the reply on 30-06-2020 and observed that “zoom hearings” may be continued subject the result of this petition.

Adv. Dr. Tushar Mandlekar, assisted by Adv. Dr. Mahindra Limayeargued for petitioner, Adv. SumantDeopujari argued for State Government, Adv. Sanyal argued for MPCB