New Delhi: The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has granted in-principle forest clearances to four highway projects, including the one that GMR Infrastructure Ltd had exited recently, according to a government official aware of the developments.
The clearances were given during the forest advisory committee (FAC) meeting on Monday and Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“These projects have been cleared in-principle, but the environment ministry doesn’t make a formal announcement till the minutes of the FAC meeting are prepared,” the official said. A final forest clearance is received only once the environment minister approves a project.
“A conditional in-principle forest clearance has been granted to the part of the Kishangarh-Udaipur-Ahmedabad highway that passes through the state of Rajasthan,” the official said, adding that a regional office of the environment ministry was conducting a site inspection for the part of the highway passing through Gujarat.
GMR Infrastructure had pulled out of the Kishangarh-Udaipur-Ahmedabad highway contract with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) citing delay in clearances.
The other highway projects cleared include the widening of the National Highway (NH) 87 from Rampur to Kathgodam in Udhamsingh Nagar and Nainital districts in Uttarakhand, which involves diversion of 59.243 hectares (ha) of forest land, among others.
Diversion of an additional 1.728 ha of protected forest land was also cleared in favour of NHAI for traffic safety and geometry improvement of NH 24 in Bareilly district, Uttar Pradesh.
The highways authority had earlier in January given a list of 26 highway projects to the environment ministry that were pending for clearances.
NHAI filed a case in the Supreme Court earlier this month seeking a modification or clarification of a 2011 judgement that linked environment and forest clearances.
According to the ruling, French cement maker Lafarge SA was allowed to mine limestone in the forests of Meghalaya and the government was asked to make an interim arrangement for forest clearance till a national environment regulator was set up.
An NHAI official confirmed receiving in-principle clearances for the four highway projects. “We understand that the environment ministry is in the process of preparing a petition that it will file in the Supreme Court, after which NHAI will withdraw its case and we expect that soon,” this official said, also requesting anonymity.
Last week, NHAI chairman R.P. Singh had said that if the issues cited by GMR Infrastructure were resolved, the authority would welcome the company back to the highway projects it exited. “We would encourage them not to abandon the projects and complete them,” the chairman had said.
“I think that GMR’s exit was a major wake-up call to various sponsoring authorities to take the business of clearances far more seriously and to make them speedier. It is after all the sovereign’s responsibility,” said Vinayak Chatterjee, chairman and managing director, Feedback Infrastructure Services Pvt. Ltd, an infrastructure consultant.
An email sent to GMR Infrastructure on whether it would be interested in resuming its contract for the Kishangarh-Udaipur-Ahmedabad highway if clearances came through remained unanswered till the time of going to print.