Implications of NGT order against Mantri Developers

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Yesterday several newspapers reported National Green Tribunal’s order against Mantri Developers where NGT imposed a penalty of Rs. 130 Crs on Mantri Developers for violating “environmental and building laws” in the area between Agara and Bellandur lakes in Bengaluru. NGT said any further construction should only be in the safe zone (that is 75 metres from the lake and 50 metres from the storm water drain).

Without going into the merit of this case the above recommendation / ruling of NGT on the buffer zone requirement seems to be flawed & can have serious implications. Let’s analyse why:

1. Environmental laws are made by the central govt & Building laws are made within the ambit of environmental laws. Hence NGT, which is a special tribunal to handle the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues, cannot pass a judgement which directly violates both central and state laws. As per Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) CDP 2015 a setback of 30 meters (NOT 75 meters) from the boundary of lake is required i.e. no construction is allowed within this 30 meters buffer zone. Infact most of state environmental bye-laws are more stringent than those suggested by central govt.

So why has NGT ordered for 75 meters buffer zone from the Lake boundary which directly contradicts state building laws is beyond me? What happens to all those projects approved by BDA where 30 mtrs setback was allowed?

2. Such orders create confusion & panic in the market and will keep buyers & investors away from the industry. I am sure by now all those who had bought apartments on a lake facing property would have started calling their builders to enquire about 75 meters buffer zone & whether this ruling affects them or not. Earlier developers used to flaunt “Lake view” as an USP of their projects. Now it has become a curse. If any builder says the project abuts a lake or a drain or any water body it creates concerns among the mind of prospective buyers. An industry which is already reeling from a slowdown will be adversely affected from this order.

3. This order shall lead to delay in sanctioning of projects which abuts any water body as local authorities won’t like to mess around with NGT order. This will continue so long there is an official clarification from the govt or supreme court, if the developer chooses to approve it. Any delays in the approval process leads to cost escalation which in turn affects pricing. Also it might affect all under construction projects that abut water bodies as nobody is sure whether the order is retrospective or prospective in nature. If the order is retrospective half of Bangalore will have to be demolished!

I am sure everybody wants to protect water bodies as these are critical lifelines for us. Courts & NGT have played commendable role in protecting large swathe of forests and water bodies across India from unscrupulous individuals and corporate. However there has to be some sanctity of local laws which has to be followed by all – builders, government agencies, people & judiciary. Any ad hoc & random changes have the potential of doing more harm than good.

PS: My critique is only on the buffer zone requirement & NOT on the ongoing investigation by NGT and local authorities into this proposed development.

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