The National Green Tribunal has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to re-examine a notification that exempted real estate projects between 20,000 to 1,50,000 square metres of built up area from obtaining prior environment clearance, PTI reported.

The Ministry, in a notification published on December 9, 2016, had also suspended the the operation of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, for such projects.

The principal Bench of the green court said the government was attempting to circumvent “provisions of environmental assessment under the EIA Notification, 2006, in the name of ‘ease of doing responsible business’”. It asked why the amendment did not suggest a mechanism to evaluate and monitor the impact of construction activities.

The amendment, it said, goes against the spirit of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and the Environmental Impact Assessment notification of 2006.

The ministry had overlooked its own conclusions about the incompetence of local authorities to appraise real-estate projects as mentioned in the Kasturirangan report. The Kasturirangan panel was set up to review environmental regulations for the construction sector in the Western Ghats.

“If the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change is now changing its stand, it is duty bound to produce back-up study or research material to prove that the local bodies have concern towards environment,” the tribunal noted.

The green court, however, said that the government should take care and ensure that the cause of providing ‘housing to the poor’ does not get defeated by business, economic profitability or attempts to protect the environment.