Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Friday directed the state and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board to respond to a public interest litigation that sought to halt the construction of a sugar factory allegedly run by cabinet minister Harshvardhan Patil’s relatives. Patil holds the portfolio of the cooperatives department.
A division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Anoop Mohta was hearing a petition filed by the grampanchayat of Ashti village, Mohol taluka, Solapur, which stated that the “biased authorities” had allowed the factory’s construction to go on by flouting norms. The petition mentions that Patil’s wife, Bhagyashree, is the chairman and managing director of Audumberraoji Patil Sakhar Karkhana Limited. “An extract acquired from the office of the companies’ registrar shows the names of the wife, mother and daughter of the minister,” said the advocate of the Ashti village grampanchayat, Shrinivas Patwardhan.
The petition added that the effluents from the factory, which was illegally being built on agricultural land, would destroy the only drinking water reservoir located 1.5 km away. Ashti talao is reportedly the only source of drinking water for the local population as well as for 25 villages within a 50-km radius. “It is an ecologically sensitive area. Around 200 species of birds visit here,” said Patwardhan.
According to the petition, in April 2011, the taluka health officer of the panchayat samiti had said the factory, which would emit pollutants, molasses, press mud and chemicals, would pose a hazard to the environment and in July 2011, the panchayat unanimously rejected the permission for the factory. In spite of that, the Solapur zilla parishad issued a certificate, which wrongly showed the location of the proposed factory to be farther from the reservoir, the petition stated, adding that even the MPCB did not take effective steps against it.
On hearing the PIL, the judges declined to stay the construction. “Let us see what they (authorities) have to say. We can always ask them to demolish it,” said Justice Shah.
Minister Patil remained unavailable for comment despite several attempts to contact him.
Rosy Sequeira TNN