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Law students move HC against webinar based public hearing on 8-lane peripheral road in Bengaluru
Three law students have challenged before the Karnataka High Court a proposed webinar-based public hearings on September 23 by State pollution control Board and Bangalore Development Authority on the eight-lane peripheral road, saying it was "illegal, arbitrary and malafide".
P B Shashaankh and Pratik Kumar from Jindal Law School and Anushka Gupta from National Law University, Delhi, in their writ petition, raised seminal questions regarding the limited efficacy of webinar being used like a open public hearing for crucial environmental activities.
"As the project causes major environmental impacts to multiple rural and urban communities and the biodiversity of the region, holding the public consultation process virtually restricts multiple vulnerable communities, having no technical means to attend the virtual hearing, from effectively raising their concerns about the project, leading to an abject fail of the 'public consultation' process," they said.
In their petition filed by advocate Sushal Tiwari, the students asked the court to quash August 30 notification for zoom based webinar and direct for holding physical public consultation.
On March 18, the Karnataka government's proposal to build a 65-km eight-lane peripheral ring road in Bengaluru to decongest the city traffic suffered a setback with the Supreme Court directing the Bangalore Development Authority to conduct a 'fresh rapid' environmental impact assessment of the project.
Mooted in 2005, the project got further delayed after the court's judgement, which noted failure by authorities in following the due process in clearing it and making contradictory stand on diversion of forest land.
Citing studies showing about 42% of the population in Karnataka has access to an internet connection, the petitioners contended that disregarding the social inequalities in India and making access to the internet a prerequisite to participate in the public consultation process hindered the rights of several minority communities from accessing justice.
"This perpetuates an almost invisible form of violence on socially and economically backward communities and furthers us from the goal of achieving social equality in India," they claimed.
Referring to the Supreme Court's judgement in the case of Research Foundation for Science Technology National Resource Policy vs Union of India (2005), the petitioners said the public participation process, especially for environmental decision making is an inalienable part of the fundamental right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It is the duty of the State to ensure wide scale participation in this process, they added.