The Supreme Court on Friday stayed the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order asking Indian Railways and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) to seek environmental clearances for their projects in the country.
A bench headed by Chief Justice TS Thakur while issuing notice to various ministries, including the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), prima facie agreed with the submission of Delhi Metro and Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India (DFCCIL) that the tribunal’s order was erroneous and if they were forced to seek clearances from MoEF, their projects will get delayed.
The green tribunal had on July 5 said that the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), an Indian Railways project, had no environment clearance and even no environmental impact assessment (IEA) was conducted. It had further told the ministry to obtain Environmental Clearance (EC) for the project as expeditiously as possible, failing which the project work would be stopped.
Challenging the NGT’s order, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the government firms, said Railways and DMRC are not required to seek environmental clearances for their projects like dedicated freight corridors and MoEF had in principle issued a no-objection certificate to the project.
“The law categorically states that Railways do not need environmental clearances,” he argued.
In the first phase, the railways aims to complete two corridors —Western DFC (Uttar Pradesh to Mumbai) and Eastern DFC (West Bengal to Punjab)—by December 2019, with commissioning (in segments) beginning from 2017-18.
The railways ministry stated that the Tribunal had erred in failing to notice that Metro Rail project being an inter-state project was not within the purview of the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment Notification and, therefore, prior EC was not required.
The environment ministry had issued notifications in 1994 and 2006 laying out guidelines for types of development projects that need advance clearances and an environment impact assessment.
According to it, the MoEF has time and again taken the stand that the Railway projects are excluded from the Schedule of the EIA Notitication 2006 and as such does not require any Environmental Clearance.
Besides, that NGT erred in including the Railway Projects including the Metro Rail within the provisions of the Notification of 2006 by reading it as a “Township” and “Area Development Projects,” it added.