Upset over the failure of the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) to frame forest clearance norms as directed by the Supreme Court and the resultant delays in road projects, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is planing to take up the matter with the court afresh. The authority’s move comes after it secured a favourable opinion from both the law ministry and the Cabinet secretariat, official sources told FE.
Delays in environmental approvals — usually attributed to the existing policy of linking the same to forest clearances — and procedural issues have affected implementation of national highway projects worth R23,000 crore. This is at a time the Prime Minister’s Office and finance ministry are asking all wings of the government to make concerted efforts to speed up infrastructure projects to accelerate economic growth.
Allowing French cement major Lafarge to mine limestone in the forests of Meghalaya’s East Khasi hills, the court had in a July 2011 judgement asked the government to set up a national environment regulator and said till this was done, an interim arrangement would be put in place by the MoEF in consultation with states. The idea was to lay down comprehensive guidelines for forest clearances. However, the MoEF hasn’t fully complied with the court order as yet, sources in the NHAI, alleged, adding the MoEF was reminded of the issue several times in recent months.
In a meeting between the ministry of finance, the ministry of road transport and highways, the NHAI and the environment ministry a few days ago, the authority specifically informed the MoEF that the NHAI would consider invoking the SC judgment if forest and environmental clearances are not de-linked.
Sources said in case of many big highway projects, forest clearances are relevant for only small stretches but the whole projects get stuck as forest clearances precede final environmental approvals.
“The NHAI and roads ministry secretary expressed the view that the Forest Conservation Act is not applicable to road-side plantation and informed that the proposal has been forwarded to environment ministry suggesting that forest clearance (FC) be de-linked from environment clearance (EC)