In a ruling that's likely to have a far-reaching impact on realty projects across the country, the National Green Tribunal has held that fire safety provisions, parking spaces and recreation grounds must be included while computing a realty project's built-up area to determine if it needs environmental clearance. Bringing these municipal issues within the scope of environment approvals for the first time, NGT's principal bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar imposed a fine of Rs 3 crore on Priyali Builders and directed it to halt construction at a slum rehabilitation project at Antop Hill locality in Mumbai.
The tribunal held that the developer has to pay Rs 3 crore under the Public Liability Insurance Act and an additional fine for not providing a recreation ground to project beneficiaries. It also directed the builder to halt construction and not create any third-party rights at the project.
The NGT had ruled in a case filed by Sunil Kumar Chugh, a beneficiary of the slum rehabilitation project, and his neighbor who had challenged the environmental approval granted to the redevelopment with a total built-up area of 29,150 square metres.
Construction had started in 2009 and environmental clearance was obtained in March 2014. The appellant had moved the court alleging that the builder did not obtain prior environmental clearance and violated regulations by not providing a recreation ground, parking spaces and provisions for fire safety.
The tribunal's order ends the malpractice of using only FSI (floor space index) area, and not the total built-up area, to evade obtaining environmental clearance, according to Aditya Pratap, advocate for the petitioners. Several builders ducked getting environmental clearance from 2006 to 2011 by passing the project's FSI area as the built-up area and stating that it was below the threshold, he said. "By ruling that built-up area includes both FSI and non-FSI areas, the tribunal has made this definition applicable retrospectively from 2006 itself, thereby bringing all projects approved thereafter within its ambit if they have crossed the 20,000 square meter threshold limit of built-up area," Pratap said.
Several realty projects allegedly evaded the ambit of environmental clearance by excluding non-FSI areas such as the lift lobby, basement areas and staircases while computing the total built-up area of the project.