The debate on widening of the National Highway-7 (NH-7) continued during the hearing on the matter at the principal bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) at New Delhi on Friday with the bench questioning the basis for exempting NH-7 from the ambit of National Board for Wildlife for permission to widen the road.
The NGT was hearing petitions by NGOs Conservation Action Trust (CAT) and Srushti Paryavaran Mandal that sought stoppage of tree felling earlier allowed by the Maharashtra’s Forest department following directives of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court. In its earlier hearing, NGT stayed the forest department order. The HC directed the forest department to allow felling for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to begin the road widening work. It had warned of contempt proceedings if its directives were not followed. Following this, the forest department had allowed felling of trees.
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CAT counsels Madhavi Diwan and Saurabh Sharma told Justice Swatanter Kumar of the NGT principal bench that Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) had relaxed conditions for NBWL clearance. NHAI counsel Pinaki Mishra, a BJP member of parliament, said that the condition had been relaxed. Accusing MOEF of making a “mockery of law”, Justice Kumar asked MOEF under “what authority of law” had the rules been relaxed. He said NHAI and MOEF counsels were not filing replies in time, thereby causing delay in proceedings within the stipulated one year. He asked the counsels to go back to their respective ministers to discuss the matter.
Justice Kumar agreed with the petitioner’s contention that any allowance for NHAI work on Maharashtra side of the road will serve as a fait accompli and further similar matters for the Madhya Pradesh side of the road. He asked National Tiger Conservation Authority, MOEF and MP government to file their replies within 10 days. The next hearing is on July 27.