The road widening project of NH-22 aimed at bringing down the travel time from Chandigarh to Shimla was stalled for almost nine months before the High Court of Himachal Pradesh in December ordered a stay on all the orders of the National Green Tribunal which had taken a suo moto notice of the cutting down of trees along the national highway. NGT had restrained the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) from cutting the trees along the highway in April 2016 due to which the construction had been hit as it involved cutting of thousands of trees and hill-cutting using heavy machinery.
The tribunal had sought a response from the Himachal Pradesh government and the NHAI on the cutting down of trees and sought the number of trees that had been cut from Solan to Parwanoo along the highway. It even appointed an advocate as a local commissioner to get the facts verified and whether any compensatory afforestation has been done to mitigate the natural loss.
During the hearing of the case, the state government told the NGT that “compensatory afforestation has been done by planting of 1,44,100 trees against cutting of 12,000 trees”. “State government is keen on ensuring that it discharges its obligation of protecting life of its citizen and at the same time to provide basic facilities of connectivity through road transport. State government has examined viability, necessity and feasibility of the project to ensure that afforestation is done after cutting of the trees for the project,” the government told the NGT.
According to the submissions before NGT, NHAI had obtained the environment clearance for the project in 2007 by which it had been permitted to cut down 6,000 trees but later a government notification had freed it from obtaining any requirement of environment clearance. As many as 12,508 trees had been cut down for the road widening project, according to a submission dated October 5, 2016, before the NGT. A total of 21,000 more trees were to be cut down later, according to NHAI. The contractor because of the delay in the work had issued a notice to NHAI threatening to end the contract because of the heavy losses and idling of machines at the spot.
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Although NGT as an interim relief in October allowed NHAI to cut down some 1,257 trees in addition to the ones already cut, the government in December approached the High Court of Himachal Pradesh which on December 23 ruled, “All the orders passed by the learned National Green Tribunal and further proceedings before it in OA No.150/2016, titled ‘Tribunal on its own motion versus State of H.P. & Ors., are ordered to be stayed.”
The High Court stay on the prohibitory order of NGT paved the way for the ongoing road widening of the NH-22.