NHAI moves SC on MoEF roadblocks, forest approvals

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 10 2013, 11:43am hrs
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court seeking modification of its guidelines mandating forest clearance prior to environmental clearance, saying the related procedures have delayed and stalled 22 important projects worth over R20,000 crore.

The highway authority has also sought a direction to the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to modify its office memoranda (OM) of March and April 2011 so as to delink the two clearances in respect of widening of national highways.

However, the highway authority is unlikely to get any immediate relief as the Chief Justice of India is yet to constitute a new green bench after one of the judges, justice Swantanter Kumar, retired in December.

Another judge on the apex courts green bench, justice Altaf Alam, is due to retire on April 18.

Due to a change in procedure after the MoEFs OM, execution and completion of more than 22 awarded highway projects recommended by the Environmental Appraisal Committee of the green ministry have been stalled due to pending environmental clearance, NHAI said, adding that the mandatory requirement prescribed by the MoEF was playing havoc and putting its highway development projects in jeopardy.

Citing the law ministrys recommendations to MoEF to move the apex court for modification of its judgment of July 6, 2011, in the case of mining company Lafarge, NHAI said that the requirement of obtaining first-stage forest clearance as a prerequisite for obtaining EC in respect of widening of national highways should be dispensed with as it is for the authority to get such approvals for contractors/concessionaires before the commencement of construction.

However, no follow-up action has yet been taken by the MoEF, it said. The issue of delinking has also been discussed at several forums such as committee of secretaries and the finance ministry, NHAI noted.

Failure to obtain the environmental clearance before the scheduled date of appointed date results in the projects getting delayed indefinitely, which leads to disputes arising between the parties and can even lead to termination of the contracts, the application filed through NHAI chief general manager RD Sharma stated.

Blaming the MoEF for delaying environmental clearance for its projects, NHAI said concessionaires have started terminating their agreements on the pretext of delay in obtaining environmental clearance, which has become a tedious and cumbersome process.

It further added that incompensable loss of the timely execution of the project has led to huge claims and the liability is going to increase with the continuing delay.

According to the application, NHAI projects are merely linear road widening projects with minimal forest involvement unlike other mining projects like Lafarge, which would largely fall within forest areas.

However, it assured the court that no work would commence on the stretch falling in forest areas till forest clearance is granted. ...the work of widening of road on that particular stretch can simply be dropped, NHAI added.

Besides, the authority said that in the Lafarge case, linear projects were never considered and the observations in that case can be assumed to be only in respect of localised projects such as mines, hydro projects, etc.