The green panel directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to constitute a seven-member expert committee and suggest relief and rehabilitation measures to be adopted.
A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the stand of the project proponent that the project executed prior to the grant of environmental clearance (EC) is unrelated to irrigation is “patently untenable”.
“We are unable to accept the stand of the project proponent that primarily the project is for water supply and water management and that irrigation is subsidiary or incidental part of the project so as to hold that no EC was required prior to execution of the project from 2008 to 2017,” the bench said.
“We are also unable to agree that the state did not proceed with the irrigation component in the project till the clearances were granted and only constructed components relating to supply of drinking water,” the tribunal said.
The tribunal held that environmental clearance was granted to the lift irrigation project “ex post facto” (having retrospective effect) in violation of legal requirement.
The tribunal’s judgement came on a plea filed by Telangana-based Mohammad Hayath Udin, who alleged that the construction of the scheme had begun without environmental and other statutory clearances.
The plea, filed through advocates Sanjay Upadhyay and Salik Shafique, had sought a ban on any non-forest activities such as felling of trees and blasting and tunnelling activities in the forest areas, which were in violation of the Forest Conservation Act.
Another plea was filed by Thummanapally Srinivas and others who had approached the NGT on the proposal and finalisation of tenders for the expansion of the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project without obtaining prior environmental clearance with an estimated cost of Rs 21,000 crore.