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NGT begins fresh hearing in Karnataka case as expert member retired without signing ruling

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NGT delivered verdict more than six months ago; petitioner sought a stay on water project as it ‘violated’ forest clearance norms.

New Delhi: An expert member of the National Green Tribunal, who heard a case related to a water project in Karnataka and delivered the initial ruling, retired without signing the document, prompting NGT to begin a fresh hearing in the matter.

The tribunal had delivered its judgment in this case more than six months ago.

Although the tribunal conditionally cleared the Rs 12,000-crore Yettinahole water project, it said it would assign reasons and lay out the conditions later.

In fact, in October 2017, a bench headed by former chairperson Swatanter Kumar had dictated the operative part of the ruling in open court.

But the detailed judgment was not made available since the members retired subsequently, prompting the petitioner K.N. Somshekhar to seek a rehearing.

“We had initially approached the Southern Zone Bench in Chennai. There was no progress in the case for over a year so we then moved the principal bench in 2016,” Somshekhar said.

“We travel from Bengaluru for the case but since neither we nor the government quite understood where the project stands, we had to seek a rehearing. If there was more clarity, people could have questioned those who come seeking votes before the elections,” the petitioner added.

The tribunal, however, hoped that the matter would be given a quiet burial if the case was heard again expeditiously. The tribunal told the parties about the hiccup in court that the ruling cannot be given as the expert member — Ranjan Chatterjee — had retired before signing the orders but did not record it in the order.

“We also do not wish to record herein the circumstances in which the expert member could not sign the reasons or text of the judgment for being released resulting in the delay. In the given circumstances, we are of the opinion that in the interest of justice and fair play will be met and to keep the principle of giving full opportunity to all the concerned it would be appropriate to rehear this appeal,” a bench headed by acting chairperson Dr Jawad Rahim said.

Phase-I of the Yettinahole project will require felling of over 6,000 trees in the ecologically sensitive rainforest area of the Western Ghats. The petitioner has alleged violation of forest clearance conditions and the National Forest Policy, 1988.

He had sought a stay on the ground that the state government had not conducted a study on the ecological impact of the project.

The project will divert water from the west flowing tributaries of the Nethravathi river in the coffee producing Hassan district to southern and eastern districts including the Bengaluru Rural.

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