The Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the forest department to issue a letter to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) allowing it to fell trees within two days for the four-laning of 37-km stretch of National Highway-7 between Mansar in Nagpur district and Khawasa in Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh in the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Pench Tiger Reserve. The matter is slated to come up for hearing again on Friday.
The issue was caught in a legal battle with the NHAI on one side and the forest department, wildlife authorities and activists on the other.
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The NHAI had earlier rejected the Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII) proposal to build a flyover along the stretch to save what is considered as country’s most important tiger and wildlife corridor, citing cost escalation. While the high court had rapped the state forest department for holding up the tree-felling in its earlier hearings, the National Green Tribual, moved by wildlife activists, had stayed the subsequent withdrawal of its earlier order by the forest department.
The matter has also become a high court versus NGT issue with the forest department in a bind due to possibility of causing contempt either way.
A government resolution on July 1 had clarified that for any tree felling within the ESZ of protected areas, permission of NGT was a must. When this was brought to the court’s notice on Wednesday, Justice Bhushan Gavai asked government pleader Bharti Dangre to clarify the matter. Dangre then clarified that the government had issued a circular on Tuesday, July 21, saying that the July 1 order will not be applicable to the NH-7 matter before the court.