Activist write to MoEF, want construction stopped

STATUE OF UNITY PROJECT: Cite a lack of environmental clearance, threaten to move court if queries not answered

Indian Express, January 20, 2015

The Statue of Unity is likely to face a legal hurdle with a group of environment activists set to move the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the state government’s ambitious project to construct the 180-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel at a distance of 3.2 km downstream of the Narmada dam on an island in the middle of Narmada river.

The foundation stone of the project was laid by the then CM Narendra Modi on October 31, 2013, and a work order of Rs 2,979 crore was given to Larsen & Toubro in October last year. Work on the construction of the Rs 176 crore Shreshtha Bharat Bhawan, a part of the project, has begun and the construction of the statue is likely to begin soon.

Activists have written to the secretary of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, asking him to direct the state government and the agencies involved in the construction of the project — the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rashtriya Ekta Trust (SVPRET) and the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) — to stop construction work with “immediate effect” in the absence of clarity on environmental impact assessment of the project, or face legal action.

“We will look forward to your urgent action and also point-wise response to all our letters. Thus we call on you to cease all Statue of Unity Project activities and not commence further work until the due process of environmental clearance is undertaken. If project activities are not immediately stopped, you will invite immediate legal action,” the activists wrote.

They have argued that the construction work on the project requires environmental clearance as it is situated in an ecologically and environmentally sensitive zone and have said that being situated on the boundary of the Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, the project will put extra load on a geological fault line area and will affect the river and the biodiversity also by bringing in lakhs of tourists to the ecologically sensitive zone.

“This raises the issue of safety and stability of the project. The government claims to having conducted a seismic hazard study of the project by its in-house Institute of Seismological Research, but the study is not valid unless peer review is conducted. The study has not even been made public. We believe construction activity is illegal in the absence of environment clearance from the union ministry as it violates Environment Protection Act, 1986, and the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of September 2006, as well as orders of the NGT and various other courts. We will take legal recourse so that the government reveals its stand on an important aspect of the mega project,” said activist Trupti Shah, who is one of the 22 activists who have taken the fight against the statue to court.

“We wrote to various government departments concerned four times and filed RTI applications but did not get any clear information. So the only option left is legal recourse,” she said. A copy of the letter has also been marked to L&T. The SSNNL maintains that the project does not require environment clearance. Activists have maintained that the SSNNL is not the right authority to decide on the issue of environment clearance.

The ongoing construction of Garudeshwar Weir downstream of the proposed site of the statue has already been challenged by environment activists in the NGT for not seeking environment clearance and next hearing is scheduled on February 4. The Union MoEF had in its previous affidavit before the NGT maintained that the project never came before it for clearance. It has again stated that the project does not require environment clearance as it is a part of the Sardar Sarovar Project.