The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) has ordered the embattled Lavasa Corporation to continue to abide by its earlier ‘status quo’ order, according to highly placed sources in the ministry.

The ministry was supposed to reach a decision on the matter after conducting a site visit and inform the Bombay High Court as well. A Lavasa official said the company has got no new orders from Jairam Ramesh’ ministry on Monday. Lavasa is now likely to again move the Bombay High Court, which had told the firm to wait for the ministry’s final order.

The status quo order will be a big set back to Lavasa, which had unleashed a high powered legal and public relations campaign against the interim order of the MoEF in which stop work was ordered for alleged environmental degradation.

The move also pours cold water over the hopes rekindled by a recent comment by Naresh Dayal, chairman of the ministry’s delegation that conducted an on-the-spot check on the hill city project. “Prima facie, forest destruction does not seem to have happened in case of Lavasa,” he had said after a 3-day visit ten days ago. The comment had raised eyebrows at the ministry, which was quick to clarify that the comment was not be taken as the final verdict of the visiting panel.

The comments were also attacked by the National Alliance of People’s Movements or NAPM, headed by rights activist Medha Patkar. She had alleged that the panel had spoken to a group of villagers herded together by Lavasa Corporation, instead of doing a thorough check.
The hill city project spread of several thousand hectares is accused to leading to deforestation and destabilization of hill-slopes, besides causing other environmental problems such as depletion of drinking water.

The Bombay High Court had, a month ago, refused to stay the order of the stop work order by the MoEF, urging the ministry to visit Lavasa before taking the decision. It had said that Lavasa could challenge the final decision of the Ministry.

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