Hyderabad: The Telangana High Court, on 9 July, directed the state government to postpone the environmental public hearing, scheduled to be held on 10 July, regarding the setting up of the Zaheerabad National Investment and Manufacturing (NIMZ) project. It said the public hearing would be a violation of the Central guidelines prohibiting large public gatherings till 31 July. The court advised the government to hold the hearing after the Union government changes the guidelines.

A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Raghavendra Singh Chauhan and Justice B. Vijayasen Reddy issued the direction on Thursday while hearing a writ petition filed by M. Raji Reddy and four others from villages in Nyalakal mandal of Sangareddy district. They fall under the category of project-affected persons. They sought a direction from the court to the government to postpone the public hearing as it would put them in danger of contracting coronavirus and prevent them from participating in the exercise.

The counsel for the petitioner, N.S Arjun Kumar, submitted that the NIMZ project directly affects nearly 10,000 people in 17 villages of two mandals. Several thousand others will also be indirectly affected. The purpose of the public hearing, which is to elicit the views of the affected persons and then make changes to the environmental management plan, would be defeated if the hearing is held at a time when the number of COVID-19 cases in the state is surging, he said, adding, it would prevent people from participating in the exercise.

He cited the Supreme Court judgment wherein it was made clear that public hearings should not be treated as merely a step to be completed and instead the affected persons must be given an opportunity to provide their views on the project. It would also be a blatant violation of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that have been adopted by the state government, he said. If the hearing is held as scheduled, the threat of the spread of COVID-19 in the rural areas of Sangareddy would be made real and it would overwhelm the already creaking health infrastructure in Hyderabad.

The advocate general, B.S Prasad, submitted to the court that this project was important and would provide jobs to nearly 2.44 lakh people in the state. It would also bring big investments, especially at a time when investments are shifting from China. He said it is necessary to complete the process of environmental clearance early in order to move ahead with the project. He also submitted that Maharashtra and Karnataka are going ahead with such public hearings and the same may be permitted here.

The Chief Justice rejected this contention of the AG and said that one state violating the guidelines would not be a justification for another state to violate them, too. He cited the MHA guidelines which prohibit large gatherings and said that according to the government’s affidavit, at least 1,000 persons are expected to attend the hearing. This would clearly be in violation of the MHA guidelines, he said, directing that the public hearing be postponed and held only when the Central government modifies its guidelines.

Since the meeting is proposed to be held on 10 July and the order would take time, he directed the AG to inform the authorities about the postponement and also to get this information to the people so that they do not gather on Friday for the hearing

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