A division bench comprising justices Ashok Bhusan and Arun Tandon passed the order on a petition filed by a Varanasi-based social organization, Ganga Mahasabha, and the Vindhya Environmental Society, Mirzapur, which had alleged the proposed 1047-km, 8-lane access controlled highway would expose large parts of the state to many an environmental hazards.
Delivering the judgment, the division bench said, "The state government must not proceed with the eight-lane highway project unless and until it obtains a due clearance from the state-level environment impact assessment authority (SEIAA)" in accordance with law. The court quashed a clearance certificate of the SEIAA dated 23.08. 2007, produced by the state government, saying the same had not been obtained "in accordance with the law". The expressway is slated to provide high-speed direct connectivity from Ballia on the eastern-most fringes of the state to Greater Noida on the west.
Though the order does not stay the project, per se, the fact that work on it would be halted until a fresh NOC is obtained from the environmental ministry, will definitely act as a dampener for the BSP government, which is already reeling under the impact of the recently held Lok Sabha elections and thereafter the blow of the Supreme Court order regarding the reinstatment of 18,000 police constables appointed by the previous government.
It may be mentioned that the expressway, which would be cutting across 18 districts in the state, was awarded to the Jaypee group in February 2008, is to be built via the public-private-partnership (PPP) model and is expected to reduce the travel time from Ballia to the national capital to eight hours.
Ever since the concept of the expressway was mooted by the Mayawati government, it has been maintaining that the proposed land-parcels, to be given to the developer for development, would largely comprise infertile and barren land. Besides, it has also claimed that almost 60% of the entire area is flood-prone, which creates havoc to the resource-starved population. Hence, once this land is put to better utilization, it will be in the interest of the local populace. Land parcels along the mega project would accentuate and add value to the produce of farmers and also leverage the process of economic development through establishment of industrial and residential areas, particularly in the eastern and central parts of the state, the government had stated.