The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has slapped an over Rs 113 crore fine on a Noida-based realtor for violating environmental norms and observed that inaction by the Enforcement Directorate for more than nine and a half years in the matter “encouraged” violations.
It also observed that when action was taken in the case by the federal agency it was in a “narrow sphere”.
The ED has “forgotten to take note” that the scope of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) has been widened and revenue earned by committing such crimes is proceeds of crime as defined in the law, the National Green Tribunal said.
The green panel was hearing a petition claiming that Uppal Chadha Hi Tech Developers Pvt. Ltd. was violating environmental norms in its Hi-Tech township across 14 villages in Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar districts of Uttar Pradesh.
A bench comprising Chairperson Justice a K Goel noted that the project proponent (PP) violated several environmental norms and remedial action for the restoration of the environment required the proponent to pay environmental compensation on the basis of the polluter pays principle.
The bench also comprising Judicial Member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and Expert Member A Senthil Vel computed environmental compensation at 0.75 per cent of the total project cost.
“Environmental compensation of Rs 113.25 crore shall be paid by the PP, and be deposited with the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) within three months,” it said.
Punitive action such as criminal prosecution would also be justified against the PP, the bench said.
The green panel said in the present case, environmental norms were not followed and it resulted in a “scheduled offence”. The revenue earned by committing such a crime is the proceeds of the crime as defined in the PMLA, it said.
Further, showing the revenue as business proceeds amounted to projecting or claiming it as untainted property, and the entire activity has been covered under Section 3 (offence of money laundering) of the PMLA, it said.
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“The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had been taking action under PMLA in a narrow sphere. It has forgotten to take note of the fact that the scope of the PMLA has been enhanced or widened, a lot, at least after the amendment Act of 2012 with effect from February 15, 2013,” the tribunal said.
It said more than nine and a half years have passed but not a “single action” was taken by the ED against violators committing offences under environmental statutes, included in the Act.
“Since the competent authority has never resorted to proceed against violators of environmental statutes… this inaction has encouraged polluters to continue violation with impunity,” the tribunal said.
It also said the intention to treat environmental violations as serious offences were “frustrated” by the enforcement machinery and it was incumbent upon authorities to at least take action against resourceful and powerful violators.
“Our endeavour was to highlight inapt attitude and apathy towards enforcement of laws enacted to give teeth to environmental laws but responsible authorities find it convenient to put these laws in hibernation,” the tribunal’s bench said.
It then said it was open to the competent authority to take appropriate action against the PP under the provisions of the PMLA.
The tribunal also highlighted the importance of levying a substantive amount as environmental compensation.
“When we talk of environmental compensation for causing degradation to environment and for its restoration or remediation, it is not a formal or casual or symbolic amount which is required to be levied upon the violator and it is a substantive and adequate amount which must be levied for restoration of the environment,” it said.
It said the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had been “very lenient” towards violators by determining a symbolic amount.
“Nature is precious and the elements of nature like air, water, light and soil in materialistic manner may not be priced appropriately and adequately. Most of the time, whenever the price is determined, it may be extremely low or highly exorbitant meaning thereby disproportionate,” the tribunal said.