The National Highways Authority of India has shown a “lack of responsibility” and “indifference” to its duties, the National Green Tribunal said this week while directing the agency to comply with the law on maintaining green cover and removing encroachments and illegal access to highways.
On Thursday, an NGT bench headed by chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel took exception to an affidavit filed by NHAI, which stated that the primary responsibility of protecting highways from encroachment, removing illegal access to them, and planting of trees along the carriageway and median, lay with the project contractor.
The bench observed: “The guidelines on tree plantations require leaving the space for the plantations upto 30 meters width. Encroachments obstruct compliance of such mandate. The stand of the NHAI that the roads are constructed by concessioners and it is only their responsibility to comply with the mandate of law is patently untenable and shows indifference and breach of public trust and statutory duties.”
“Moreover, being public authorities, taking such plea shows lack of responsibility or lack of knowledge of law. Indifference to issues of the environment affecting public health, by a public authority, can hardly be appreciated,” it added.
The tribunal directed the NHAI, the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corp Ltd (NHIDCL) and the relevant Central and state ministries to develop appropriate mechanisms for compliance of laws that govern the issues specified in the application.
These mechanisms are to be overseen by environmental regulatory authorities at the Cente as well as state, the bench said.
“It is not a charity but a Constitutional mandate. The record shows that on every occasion the matter has been taken up, the Tribunal has regretfully found lack of involvement of the concerned authorities on the subject,” the bench noted. “We expect the highest in the organisations to look into these aspects to ensure change of attitude and counselling. We are compelled to make these observations after observing indifference for long.”