A timely intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office has prevented two arms of the central government, the environment ministry and National Highway Authority of India, from fighting it out in the Supreme Court over the issue of environmental clearance for road projects.
The NHAI had filed a petition in the Supreme Court last month based on law ministry’s opinion advising the review of the Lafarge judgment, in which the top court had linked the environment clearance with the forest clearance.
The apex court’s decision was based on environment ministry’s guideline saying that environment clearance for a project cannot be granted till it gets approval for the diversion of forestland, a reason that left the NHAI annoyed.
Environment and forest clearances are two independent processes but the ministry linked them in 2011 on the ground that project proponents were claiming forest clearance as fait accompli (automatic approval) for starting work after getting environment approval.
When the environment ministry refused to delink the two clearances citing the Supreme Court judgment, the law ministry advised that a review petition be filed in the top court against its earlier verdict.
The PMO then stepped in to prevent the situation from getting out of control, since it wanted the issue to be settled within the government and not in the court. It asked the environment ministry to amend its guidelines and delink the two clearances, which responded by saying it was ready to do so provided the NHAI assures that would not seek fait accompli if the forest clearance is rejected.