NEW DELHI: Violations of green norms and clearances can be appealed against by any citizen and not just someone directly or indirectly affected by a project, the National Green Tribunal has held, widening the scope of green litigation in the country.

The tribunal has also put in mandatory obligations on the government and project developers to disclose details of clearances. Both have avoided doing so in many cases till now.

The order came in the case of the 780 mw Naymjang Chhu Hydroelectric Project in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh. In this particular case, the project developer had put out a small notice-sized advertisement in a local newspaper instead of publishing the entire clearance details.

In its order, the tribunal said, “Law gives a right to ‘any person’ who is ‘aggrieved’ by an order to prefer an appeal. The term ‘any person’ has to be widely construed. It is to include all legal entities so as to enable them to prefer an appeal, even if such an entity does not have any direct or indirect interest in a given project. The expression ‘aggrieved’, again, has to be construed liberally.”

The order takes significance because with the setting up of the tribunal, it had become the address of first recourse for all those wanting to go to court on green matters.

The NGT further said, “The grievance of a person against the environmental clearance (given by the environment ministry) may be general and not necessarily person specific.”

Also laying down the line for public disclosure of details of clearance given to projects, the NGT said, “The project proponent is legally obliged under this provision to make public the environmental clearance granted for the project with the environmental conditions and safeguards at their cost by promptly advertising it in at least two newspapers of the district or in the state where the project is located.”

Warning that mere notice of securing a clearance by the project developer was not enough, it noted, “The conditions for granting of environmental clearance with definite safeguards have to be published in the newspaper so that any person can make up his mind whether he needs to question the correctness or legality of such order.”

Ritwick Dutta, the lawyer on behalf of the petitioners, Save Mon Region Federation, had pleaded that the environment ministry too had failed in timely and complete disclosure of information on the clearance which impeded the filing of objections against the government’s decisions in the given time.

Responding to the plea, the NGT also laid down strict guidelines on disclosure by the government. “The MoEF must make every effort to put the environmental clearance orders on the website immediately upon passing of such order but in any case not later than one week from the date of passing of such order.”

Also taking on the environment ministry’s often made excuse of lack of technical ability to put out data, the NGT said, “The website of MoEF should always be functional and accessible to the public at large, who should be in a position to download the environmental clearance order without restrictions, inconvenience and any patent or latent defect. Needless to mention that the website should be regularly updated.”