A request by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for a free hand to construct and maintain roads within a radius of 50 km from Indias borders has hit a roadblock more than ten months after the request,it has been unable to get environmental and forest clearances.
The MoD application last March listed 33 border roads awaiting clearances.
The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC),which has to survey and recommend clearances for construction in reserved forests and national parks,is instead blaming the Ministries of Defence and Home for the delay,saying vital basic information on the road projects has not been furnished.
The matter came up in the Supreme Court today before the special bench of Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan,Justices S H Kapadia and Aftab Alam.
An exasperated MoD wants the court to intervene and sort out the matter.
We intend to tell the Supreme Court that China is in a state of total preparedness. The MoD and Border Roads Organisation should be allowed to construct and maintain roads keeping in mind all legal norms. We do not want to violate parliamentary statutes… The matter was listed today. It will be heard on February 19, said government counsel W A Qadri.
The CEC has said that reports have been filed on 17 of the 33 road projects and most have already been considered by the court.
The CEC,in a report dated August 21,2009 which was placed before the Supreme Court,said it was not laws like the Forest (Conservation) Act or the Wildlife Protection Act or the Supreme Court which was delaying grant of environmental or forest clearances but utter lack of coordination and the low priority accorded to such proposals at different levels of the government,including surprisingly in the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs.
It all began in March 2009 when the MoD filed an application,seeking exemption from requirement of clearance under the Forest Conservation Act,1980 and the Wildlife Protection Act,1972 for roads constructed/maintained by Border Roads Organisation within 50 km of Indian borders/Line of Control/LAC.
The MoD complained to the Supreme Court that the procedure under the Forest Conservation Act and the Wildlife Protection Act leads to a lot of correspondence between departments which causes inordinate delay for maintaining border roads critical in the interest of national security.
The application said the Ministry of Environment and Forestss intimation in March 2006 to finalise forest and environmental clearances in border areas in a time-bound manner of four months is never achieved.
In direct criticism of the process that the MoD is made to wait for the CECs recommendation and clearances from various government departments in each case of border road construction and maintenance,the application said the legal system could never have intended to interfere with the matter relating to national security and day-to-day functioning of the Ministry of Defence in sensitive border areas.
But the CEC put the ball back in the MoDs court,saying approvals of many projects often gets delayed at the formulation stage of the proposal at the field level and because of the inordinate and unjustified delays which have taken place in the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Home Affairs in providing the vital basic information such as the length,the width,the location of the road passing through the forest/national parks/sanctuaries,number of trees affected,etc.
The CEC,in its report signed by member M K Jiwrajika,said it has often gone out of the way to clear MoD proposals and not a single case has been kept pending for more than six months. Proposals of the Ministry of Defence/Home Ministry have always been accorded high priority by the CEC. Relevant details are sometimes even obtained telephonically to expedite matters, stated the CEC.
According to the CEC,bypassing the Supreme Court or the statutes would not quicken the pace of road projects because the MoD would still have to take permission of the respective state governments.