National Green Tribunal has declared the environmental clearance (EC) given to the Kaleshwaram Multipurpose Lift Irrigation System in Telangana as ex post facto (retroactive, after it is done) and illegal.
Following, the tribunal has also directed the state government to stop all work until further orders, except the drinking water component of the project.
The NGT has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to form a seven-member expert committee to assess the amount of damage caused and come up with restoration measures that can be adopted, reported The News Minute.
The green tribunal has also asked the government to obtain forest clearance before moving ahead with the project. A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said the project was executed prior to the grant of environmental clearance.
The project is reportedly the world's largest irrigation and drinking water system that aims to provide water for drinking and irrigation to nearly 45 lakh acres in 20 of 31 districts of Telangana, apart from Hyderabad and Secunderabad, reported the media.
It was granted green clearance on December 22, 2017, by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, but was cancelled by the NGT on October 12.
The judgment came while the tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Telangana farmer, Mohammad Hayath Udin from Siddipet district in February 2018 who said he was directly affected by the project. The petition sought a ban on non-forest activities that were carried out illegally and came under the purview of the Forest Conservation Act.
There was another plea filed by Thummanapally Srinivas over the finalisation of tenders and expansion of the project without obtaining any proper environment clearance from the official department.
The bench said that they find it difficult to agree to the fact that the state did not proceed with the irrigation component in the project till the clearances were granted and only constructed components relating to the supply of drinking water.
"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 the execution of the project from 2008 to 2017," the bench added.
Kaleshwaram project is one of the largest lift irrigation projects in the world with an estimated annual discharge of over 240 thousand million metric feet. The foundation stone of the project was laid in 2016 and after completion it is said to provide water in 45 lakh acres. The total cost of the project is ₹80,000 crore.