NGT refers plea challenging Chardham highway project to larger bench
The National Green Tribunal Tuesday referred to a larger bench a petition dealing with the environmental clearance issue related to the Chardham highway project for providing all-weather connectivity to four holy towns of Uttarakhand.
A bench of justices Jawad Rahim and S P Wangdi and expert member Nagin Nanda said that as the Supreme Court has noted in its order that the matter is complex one, it should be heard by a larger bench.
The green panel said that the bench would be decided by the NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and posted the matter for hearing on September 6.
“In view of the directions of the Supreme Court and noting the complexity of the issue involved, we are of the opinion that the matter be heard by a larger bench,” the bench said.
Advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for petitioner NGO ‘Citizens for Green Doon’, said that under “no circumstance” the matter can go to a different bench if the judgement has been reserved in the matter.
He said that as per the apex court order, the case should be heard by the same bench which was hearing it earlier.
The top court on August 27 had directed the NGT chairman to accord “one clear day” to an original bench, which had heard petitions dealing with environmental clearance issues related to the Chardham highway project.
“Since the matter appear to be a complex one and has been heard over several days, we take it that the rehearing will only be on some final aspects. This being the case, we accede to what Parikh says and request the Chairman to grant at least one clear day to the same tribunal to finally dispose of the matters before it,” the top court had said.
The NGO had approached the top court when a bench headed by new NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel recently said that it will rehear the matter in entirety.
The green panel is seized of the petitions which are dealing with environmental clearances for the project which aims to connect Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri in Uttarakhand.
The Centre had told the tribunal that Chardham highway project was of national importance as it is located in border area.
“Expansion of roads is required in larger national interest and there cannot be any compromise on this. The project also involves greater public interest of facilitating the Chardham yatra,” it had said earlier.
The petitioner NGO had said that the environment clearance was must for the project and the ongoing work was “blatantly illegal”.
It had said the trees and mountains are also of national importance and it is the government’s duty to protect and preserve them.
The Environment Ministry had earlier informed the NGT that it has received no proposal for environmental clearance of the project and hence the question of an environment impact assessment (EIA) study of such a project does not arise.
The ministry also said that under the 2006 EIA notification, only new national highways and expansion of highways over 100 kms need prior environmental clearance.
The submission was made in response to a plea of the NGO which said that the 900-km project in the hilly state was being carried out without any environmental impact assessment.
The petition of the NGO also contended that the Centre has allegedly deliberately broken it into small stretches to do away the requirement for obtaining environment clearance.
The tribunal had earlier rapped the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for failing to submit a plan for disposal of muck from the highway project.
The NGO had sought a stay on the Chardham project and directions to identify stretches of highways where landslides were likely to occur due to recent cutting of trees.
It had alleged that the road-widening work to connect Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri was being carried out in violation of environmental laws.
“The Chardham project involves excavating and cutting away the base of the steep mountain slopes, cutting of thousands of valuable trees and thus further destabilising the mountains and in fact turning the entire area into an active landslide zone,” it alleged
The tribunal had last year disposed of a similar plea challenging the project after the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) assured the NGT that they would carry out the project after due compliance with the laws, especially the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone notification of December 18, 2012.