The National Green Tribunal on Tuesday dismissed a petition seeking the halt of construction of the Garudeshwar weir, a key part of Gujarat’s ambitious Sardar Patel statue project. The plea seeking a cessation of work was thrown out on the technical grounds that it had been filed beyond the statute of limitations of six months.

The 182-metre Statue of Unity is intended to be the word's tallest statue.  It is to be located on a river-island facing the Sardar Sarovar dam. The Garudeshwar weir will be created by another dam 12 kilometres downstream on the Narmada river. In addition to storing water for power generators, the weir is intended to be one of the tourist attractions in the Sardar Patel statue project. The dam, which is planned to be 31.75 metres high, will be built by Hyderabad-based Ritwick Construction Private Limited.

But the petitioners have not lost hope.

“The court dismissed the case only on technical grounds,” said Rohit Prajapati, one of the appellants in the case. “They accepted all our other arguments. Now we will present this to the Supreme Court.”

The tribunal had to decide four issues. Of the four, three were in the applicants’ favour. It ruled against them only in one point – the case was filed three years after the applicants came to know construction had begun, the court found. This was outside the six month statute of limitations of the tribunal, it said, and so it had to dismiss the appeal.

The other arguments are in fact crucial to the case against the dam.

Not another Sardar dam

Two of the three questions dealt with whether the project could be considered a part of the Sardar Sarovar Project, which had completed all its paperwork in 1984.

What complicates this is the Supreme Court’s 2000 judgment in the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s case against the dam. The apex court permitted the Sardar Sarovar dam to be built and to have its height periodically increased. It also set up a Narmada Control Authority to settle any further disputes.

The Gujarat government, contending that Garudeshwar was an extension of the Sardar Sarovar Project, did not conduct either a social impact assessment or seek environmental clearances for it. But had Garudeshwar been a part of this project, the National Green Tribunal would then have no cause to examine the case – as it had already been settled by the apex court.

The tribunal observed that while the project was mentioned in passing at the time the Sardar Sarovar dam was being planned, there were no concrete plans for it. It also pointed out that the cost for Garudeshwar was not split between three states, as the Sardar Sarovar dam was, indicating that it might have been planned as a separate project altogether.

Applicants are not ‘busy bodies’

The other question was whether the appellants had the right to file an appeal at all.

The Gujarat government in its arguments against the petition called Prajapati and Mishra “busybodies” who were unrelated to or not affected by the project. Of the other two petitioners, the land of Mavaji Tadvi had been acquired for the Garudeshwar weir in 1987 and he had received compensation under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. He had also filed and won a case in the Gujarat High Court to increase the compensation.

But as the tribunal tersely pointed out, the other applicants were perfectly eligible to file a case, even if they weren’t directly involved.

“So, it goes without saying,” the tribunal said, the other applicants “may not be persons directly affected by Garudeshwar Weir project. It supposes that they have ‘interest in environment and desire to maintain required standard of environment in the area’.”

For now, construction in the region has stopped, due to the monsoon and work is unlikely to resume until October. The group hopes to file its appeal in the Supreme Court by then.