The non-governmental organization Eco-Sud will be able to challenge the decision of the Minister of the Environment to grant an Environmental Impact Assessment permit for a luxury villa project and a hotel complex in Pointe-d'Esny, according to the King's Privy Council.

On Thursday 4 July 2024, the Privy Council upheld the broader interpretation given by the Supreme Court of Mauritius on the standing of the NGO Eco-Sud (locus standi) to pursue its challenge. The NGO is challenging a major project by Pointe d'Esny Lakeside Company Limited, in Pointe-d'Esny.

The project, costing Rs 11 billion, includes the construction of 172 villas, 278 apartments, 100 duplexes, commercial facilities, an apartment hotel complex, among others. All on a plot of land measuring 70.9 ha. The lords upheld a judgment delivered by Justices Shameen Hamuth Laulloo and Mohana Naidoo in the case on July 18, 2023.

The Privy Council noted that the developer had continued construction on the project in an attempt to “pre-empt” the decision of the Environmental Appeal Tribunal. “It should be remembered that if the appeal is successful and the EIA permit is revoked, the developer could be forced to “restore the land to its original condition,” the Lords stressed.

“It is essential that the public have confidence in the environmental safeguards enacted by the legislature and proceeding with the development in these circumstances undermines confidence,” he adds.

Environmental campaigner Eco-Sud has challenged the Environment Minister's decision to grant an EIA permit to Pointe d'Esny Lakeside Company Limited before the Environment Land Use Appeal Tribunal (ELUAT).

Eco-Sud argued that the project would have a negative impact on the surrounding wetlands and the protected Ramsar site of Pointe-d'Esny.

On October 6, 2021, the ELUAT ruled that Eco-Sud did not have the standing to appeal the Minister's decision. This is because it was not “harmed” and was not likely to suffer “excessive harm.”

Not satisfied with the decision, Eco-Sud challenged the ELUAT ruling before the Supreme Court. On July 18, 2023, the Supreme Court judges overturned the court's decision.

Lords Patrick Stewart Hodge, George Andrew Midsomer Leggatt, Andrew Stephen Burrows, Brian Francis Kerr Stephens and Lady Vivien Judith Rose, noted that Mauritius is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention. The country has designated wetlands, including the Pointe-d'Esny Ramsar site, as protected areas. They also highlighted that Eco-Sud is extensively involved in environmental protection efforts, including the Pointe-d'Esny site.

The Privy Council dismissed the appeal by the Minister and the Department of the Environment. It supported the Supreme Court's decision to remit the case to the ELUAT for a fresh opinion. The Lords confirmed that environmental organisations could have locus standi if they showed a genuine interest and sufficient knowledge of the subject matter.

“Historic victory”

In a press release on Thursday, July 4, 2024, the NGO Eco-Sud described the Privy Council's decision as a “historic verdict”. This decision, according to the NGO, marks “a turning point in environmental jurisprudence in Mauritius. It paves the way for greater citizen participation in environmental protection and greater accountability of promoters of projects with a high environmental impact”. Eco-Sud welcomes this decision.

Me Sanjay Bhuckory: “a jurisprudence in environmental law”

Speaking on Radio Plus, Me Sanjay Bhuckory, Senior Counsel and one of Eco-Sud's lawyers, described the Privy Council's decision as “case law” in environmental rights. According to him, NGOs “are no longer required to show that it is their own financial and economic interests that are at stake. This interpretation is no longer appropriate.”

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