New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday stayed an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which made environmental clearances necessary for constructing railway projects in the country.
The principal bench of NGT on 31 May ruled that the Indian Railways’ Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), a project that aims to decongest its network, requires environment clearance and an environmental impact assessment (IEA) to be conducted, but did not rule against construction.
The tribunal also ruled against fresh construction of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and the Noida Metro Rail Corporation (NMRC).
The railway ministry and DMRC moved the apex court’s against the tribunal’s ruling.
A bench comprising chief justice T.S. Thakur and A.M. Khanwilkar, while staying the NGT order, also issued notices to various ministries, including the environment ministry.
The government’s top law officer, attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, pointed out that the environment ministry had in principle issued a no-objection certificate to the direct freight corridor (DFC) project.
“The law categorically states that railways do not need environmental clearance," Rohatgi told the court.
An office memorandum issued by the environment ministry in June states that Metro projects are not required to seek environmental clearance under the 2006 EIA notification issued by the government.
“We are confident that we will be able to show the Supreme Court the environmental impact of metro construction and the necessity for obtaining environmental clearance," said environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, who was involved in the case at the NGT.
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. Railways aims to decongest its present routes and allow for quicker movement of passenger and freight.
The environment ministry issued notifications in 1994 and 2006 laying out guidelines for the types of development projects that need advance clearances and environment impact assessment. The guidelines state township activities, area development, among others, need prior clearances. The green tribunal clubbed Metro projects under the ‘area development’ head.
“When EIA notification was developed, new kinds of projects like metros and their impact on environment was not visualized. So now when NGT is actually trying to bring such projects under EIA notification in line with current scenario, it is most welcome. We hope that the people who are involved in the petition would be able to inform the Supreme Court of the correctness of the NGT judgment," said Manoj Misra, convener of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, a non-profit working on environmental issues.
Since May 2014, the Union cabinet has approved three metro rail projects—the Nagpur metro with a length of 38.21km along two corridors at a cost of Rs8,680 crore, phase-I of the Ahmedabad metro covering 35.96km at a cost of Rs10,773 crore, and the Lucknow metro over 22.87km at a cost of Rs6,928 crore.
Among the other metro rail projects awaiting clearance from the cabinet are a network for the tri-city area of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula, one for Ludhiana and another for Dehradun-Rishikesh-Haridwar.
Besides, Metro networks are currently coming up in Hyderabad and Kochi.
Mayank Aggarwal and Jyotika Sood contributed to the story.