The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), which took the ministry of environment and forests to the Supreme Court earlier in the week accusing it of causing delays in road projects, on Friday made another plea seeking removal of mandatory approvals from gram sabhas for national highway widening projects involving diversion of “only protected forests”.
There are other kinds of forests — community-owned, private and reserved. In protected forests, the human-animal overlap is the highest.
The NHAI also sought a direction to environment ministry to dispense with the requirement of prior approval /no-objection certificate from gram sabhas in respect of land acquired for construction of roads on which plantation has been done by the forest department in the “right of way” for highway projects. Prior approval/NoC was mandated by the ministry in such cases through a July 2009 letter.
As reported earlier, the authority had moved the apex court on Wednesday seeking modification of its guidelines mandating forest clearance prior to environmental clearance, saying such procedure has delayed and stalled 22 important projects over worth Rs 20,000 crore. In the plea, the NHAI had noted the ministry’s “failure” to act as per the law ministry’s advice seeking modifications in the court’s July 2011order.
“Due to the long and cumbersome process of obtaining NoCs from all the gram sabhas of affected villages, which delays the forest clearance, even obtaining environmental clearance has become very difficult,” the authority stated, adding that several of its road projects are on the verge of termination.