The Supreme Court Friday lifted its stay on certain stalled projects under the government's ambitious Chardham development plan, which proposes to provide all-weather connectivity to the four holy towns of Uttarakhand. The court said the stay will, however, continue on those projects which are yet to begin under the plan till the environment clearance is taken by the authorities. The four towns of the hilly state to be connected by all-weather roads are Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
The top court also stayed a paragraph in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order passed on September 26 last year which said that these projects did not require Environmental Impact Assessment Approval/Environment Clearance in terms of the notification of Ministry of Environment & Forests. On October 22 last year, the apex court had stayed the NGT order clearing the entire ambitious Chardham project in Uttarakhand.
A bench of Justices R F Nariman and Vineet Sharan said that ongoing projects will not stay and the projects which have not yet taken off will stay. It said that in case of stalled projects the authorities will follow the usual drill and seek the requisite environmental clearances. The paragraph 46 of the NGT order of September 26 will stay, the bench said. The paragraph said: "Accordingly, these projects did not require EIA Approval/Environment Clearance in terms of the Notification of MoEF&CC dated September 14, 2006, and amended on August 22, 2013, vide S.O. 2559 (E)".
The bench also asked Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand appearing for the Centre to file an affidavit in eight weeks on the number of ongoing projects. At the outset, Anand along with advocate Balendu Shekhar said that NGT has cleared the project and all due procedure was followed. Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for NGO Citizen for Green Doon, said that without environmental clearances projects were being carried out.
He said that seven landslides have taken place due to the ecologically fragile nature of the hills which are being cut almost vertically. Parikh, appearing for the petitioner, NGO Citizens for Green Doon, had said that if the project was allowed to go on, irreversible damage would be done to the ecology which would be equal to damage done by 10 hydropower projects. He said that NGT order giving clearance to the project should stay as there was a gross violation of environmental norms. The bench, however, said that it will not stay the NGT order in entirety.
On October 22, last year, the apex court had stayed the order of NGT which had cleared the ambitious 'Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna'. The top court had on November 26 sought the Centre's response on why it should not stay the NGT order clearing the project. On September 26, NGT had constituted a committee to monitor the ambitious road project while giving its nod with some safeguards in view of larger public interest and the country's security.
The committee headed by former Uttarakhand High Court Judge Justice U C Dhyani was set up to overseeing the implementation of the Environment Management Plan (EMP) of the project. The petitioner NGO had said that the environment clearance was must for the project and the ongoing work was "blatantly illegal". The Environment Ministry had earlier informed the NGT that it had received no proposal for environmental clearance for the project and hence the question of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) study of such a project did not arise. The ministry also said that under the 2006 EIA notification, only new national highways and expansion of highways over 100 km needed to get prior environmental clearance.
The NGO stated that the 900-km project in the hilly state was being carried out without any environmental impact assessment. It also contended that the Centre had allegedly deliberately broken the road project into small stretches to do away with the requirement for obtaining environment clearance. It had alleged that the road widening work to connect Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri in Uttarakhand was being carried out in violation of environmental laws.
(With inputs from agencies.)