Environment minister Jairam Ramesh and road transport minister Kamal Nath are once again heading for a confrontation in next Empowered Group of Minister's meet on national highways to be held this month.
The fight is on the proposal of road transport ministry to allow expansion of national highways passing through national parks and sanctuaries, where there is no substantial diversion of forestland, without mandatory clearance from environment ministry.
"It is not acceptable to us," Ramesh had said on Monday. He is rejecting the proposal as it aims to negate mandatory environment clearance process. "There cannot be a change in rule only for one sector".
With this proposal, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) wants to avoid regulatory committees — Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) — alleging that getting ministry's clearance takes one to five years.
"There are road, which have been existing for 100-200 years. There has been increase in traffic volume. If we expand the same, Forest Act comes in the way. Either we expand or close down," Nath had said last week.
His views have been documented in a paper circulated for EGoM, which says that almost every major national highway passes through a national park. "Road projects which pass through highways need NBWL's approval even for survey," the paper says.
Most of the highways in these protected areas are two-lane and NHAI wants to expand them to four to eight lane highways. At the last two meetings, NBWL refused to approve many of these projects citing adverse impact on wildlife.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), which has asked to survey highway expansion projects in Nath's parliamentary constituency Chindwara in Madhya Pradesh said no such expansion should be allowed.
The environment ministry, which is likely to submit a rejoinder to the proposal, says such a blanket exemption is not possible under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The ministry is of the view that allowing expansion through a wildlife area should be last option.