May 23, 2015

Kolhapur forest officials seal windmills in Koyna

Nikhil Deshmukh,TNN | The Times of India | May 23, 2015 |

KOLHAPUR: The wildlife section of the forest department has started sealing of several windmills and resorts in Patan tehsil of Satara district after the owners failed to pay the fine imposed by the state government for installing structures in protected forest areas.

In January, the Supreme Court had given three month’s time to these windmill operators and resort owners for payment of the Rs 35 crore fine. As many as 205 windmills and nine resorts have come up in the sensitive forest areas, which are protected and notified under section 18 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Subhash Puranik, assistant conservator of forest, Koyna said, “I have received instructions to seal the windmills for their failure in payment of fine. A letter from the Kolhapur office has mentioned that the three-month period allotted by the Supreme Court has concluded on 16 April but the companies have failed to make the payment. Sealing and eviction should be initiated for the companies. There are names of 21 companies which would face action.”

The violation of norms surfaced in 2010, when Nana Khamkar, executive council member of the environmental NGO Creative Nature Friends, filed a public interest litigation in the Mumbai high court. It has said that 205 windmills and nine resorts were constructed in the sensitive forest areas in the Koyna sanctuary spread over 423.55, which is a protected area.

The state government then decided to protect the energy generation units and resorts by delimiting them from the forest areas. The then principal secretary of forest department, Pravin Pardeshi, made a formula to regularize these structures. According to the formula, windmills and resorts established before 2000 will have to pay Rs 8 lakh per hectare, while those that were set up after 2000 have to pay Rs 16 lakh per hectare as a fine. The total amount is of Rs 35 crore.

The government filed an affidavit to the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) stating that a suggestion to collect Rs 35 crore from the property owners had been made. The CEC is a statutory body constituted by the Supreme Court in 2002 to monitor environment issues and refer these to the apex court. After receiving the affidavit, the CEC submitted its report to the SC in which collection of fine was upheld.

The Indian Wind Energy Association had filed an interlocutory application before the apex court in January 2014 against CEC report regarding the issue.

The apex court, in its order on January 16, rejected the windmill owners’ plea and granted them three months to deposit the fine with the state government. But, despite such strict orders, the companies did not make the payment. So, the forest department has decided to seal the windmills and follow the action with eviction.

Rohan Bhate, honorary wildlife warden of Satara district, said: “This decision should have come much earlier. The delay made the windmill operators think that nobody is going to question them. There is someone behind these windmill operators otherwise how would they defy SC order. The payment of Rs 35 crore fine is also a collective responsibility and each windmill owner can afford it, but there is more beyond the refusal to pay the fine.

Dayanand Sutar, chief engineer of VH Aparadh Hotels, one of the companies which has not paid the fine, said, “The windmill site is approved by state government’s Maharashtra Energy Development Authority and we are getting benefit of sales tax waiver for consistently generating green power out of it. The project was started in 2000, by Chennai-based RRB Energy Ltd, which has bought the entire plot for setting up windmills. VH Aparadh Hotels has bought one windmill in that project but it was managed and operated by the RRB itself. Since 2013-14, we started operating it ourselves. It seems the problem is between the different departments of the state government because one department has approved the project while another one is objecting to it after a long time.”

He also said that monsoon period is the high wind season for windmills and 80% of the renewable energy produced in a year is produced during the monsoon. If the forest department closes our windmills, we won’t be able to generate power and it will be a violation of our agreement with the Maharashtra Energy Development Agency to produce power without fail. It will apparently take away our sales tax waiver.

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