Centre not required to take prior environmental clearance for National Highway projects, says SC

By: |
December 9, 2020 11:19 AM

The top court made this significant observation in its judgement upholding the notification for land acquisition of Chennai-Salem eight-lane green corridor, worth Rs 10,000 crore project.

In the 140-judgement, Justice Khanwilkar said that in the 1956 Act, there is nothing which impels the Centre to obtain prior environment clearance.

Before declaring a stretch as national highway as well as expressing its intention to acquire the land for building, operating or maintenance of such roads, the Centre is not required to obtain prior environmental or forest clearance under the laws, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday. The top court made this significant observation in its judgement upholding the notification for land acquisition of Chennai-Salem eight-lane green corridor, worth Rs 10,000 crore project. While examining the decision of Madras High Court’s that a prior environmental clearance was required for the project, a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, Krishna Murari, B R Gavai dealt with relevant provisions of the National Highway Authority of India Act, 1988, National Highways Rules, 1957 and National Highways Act of 1956, according to a PTI report.

On April 8, 2019, the HC verdict had held as illegal and bad in law the notifications issued under NHs Act’s Section 3A(1) for acquisition of specified lands for development of the new highway, part of the larger ‘Bharatmala Pariyojna Phase I5’ project. In the 140-judgement, Justice Khanwilkar said that in the 1956 Act, there is nothing which impels the Centre to obtain prior environment clearance.

Reverting to the MoEF’s notification which was issued on September 14, 2006, even this notification does not constrict the Centre’s power to issue notification under Section… There is nothing to suggest that prior environmental/forest clearance is required before expressing intention to acquire any land for the purpose of the 1956 Act, it said. However, before commencing the actual work or executing the proposed project, the forest or environmental clearance is required to be obtained by the executing agency in terms of this notification, it said. However, SC has not expressed any opinion either way on the correctness as well as validity of the clearances or permissions accorded by the competent authorities under the laws of environment and forest.

The orders granting permissions under the forest and environment laws were not the subject matter or the issues before the HC. Hence, it would be open to question the validity before the appropriate forum to the persons who are affected, it said. The efficacy of the clearances or permissions granted by the competent authority under the forest or environment laws have not been examined by them. The decisions may be looked at only if those permissions/clearances are assailed, it said.

The ambitious eight-lane green field project, which is 277.3 kilometres long, connecting Salem and Chennai under the ‘Bharatmala Pariyojana’ scheme of the central government, aims to reduce the travel time between the two cities by half to nearly two hours and 15 minutes. However, the project has been facing opposition from a section of locals, including farmers as well as environmentalists.

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