Home / Politics / Policy /  Forests ministry to respond to highways’ demand with SC ruling

New Delhi: The environment and forests ministry is expected to cite a 2011 Supreme Court ruling in response to a suggestion by the road transport and highways ministry to delink forest and environment clearances for road projects.

This was one of the suggestions that the highways ministry had sent to the environment ministry to speed up clearances for road projects, a senior highways ministry official had said on 17 August.

On 6 July 2011, the Supreme Court had incorporated in a ruling the recommendation of the environment ministry that “in cases where environment clearance is required for a project on forest land, the forest clearance shall be obtained before the grant of the environment clearance".

In cases where a road passes through a forest area, environmental clearance for the road is given only after the forest clearance has been obtained. But the highways ministry wants the environment clearance to be delinked from the forest clearance.

The Supreme Court ruling was in a case involving French cement maker Lafarge SA. The apex court allowed the company to mine limestone in the forests of the East Khasi hills in Meghalaya for its cement plant in Bangladesh.

“To delink forest and environment clearances, therefore, a permission from the Supreme Court will have to be sought," said a senior official in the environment ministry who did not want to be identified.

The suggestions were sent by the highways ministry at a time when more than 300 road projects, including those under the Border Roads Organization, were pending with the environment ministry for clearance.

With the availability of funds getting more difficult as well, the National Highways Authority of India was able to award road projects of just 567km in length until July this year against a target of 9,000km for the current fiscal.

In its list of suggestions to the environment ministry, the highways ministry also recommended the drafting of uniform terms of reference (ToR) to grant environment clearances for all road projects. ToR forms the basis for the environment impact assessment of any project.

Currently, an expert appraisal committee of the environment ministry determines ToR individually for each project.

“The environment ministry has put up draft guidelines on its website to help devise a basis for formulating ToR for road and power projects," said the environment ministry official cited above.

The highways ministry also wanted a simplification of the current process of getting approval for roads in forest areas from village councils under the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

A highways ministry official said on condition of anonymity that the process of getting approvals from the village councils was leading to unnecessary delays in the expansion of roads in forest areas.

In addition, the highways ministry had demanded that the threshold for getting environment clearances for road projects be increased. Currently, any road stretch of more than 30km in length needs an environment clearance. The highways ministry wants this increased to 100km.

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