Highway sops, but forest rules too

August 12, 2013

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN

NAGPUR: The central government exemption from environmental clearance (EC) to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for stretches up to 100km in length and 40m in width, will have a major impact on environment in the country, but at the same time it will not be a cakewalk for projects in wildlife and forests areas.

Earlier, as the relaxation was for 30km in length and 20 metres in width, the NHAI required EC and had to go through the mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA) by ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) through its notification of September 14, 2006, and amended on December 1, 2009.

Highways development was generally intended to improve the economic and social welfare of the people. But at the same time, EIA was to minimize adverse effects on the surrounding environment, effects on people and their properties, damage to sensitive ecosystems, soil erosion, changes to drainage pattern and thereby groundwater, loss of productive agricultural land, resettlement of people, disruption of local economic activities, demographic changes and accelerated urbanization. Now, the highways authority has been freed from the above prescriptions.

If NHAI officials are to be believed they will not have to go through the tedious process of EIA with the MoEF and even public hearings in case of soil excavation from 2-5 hectare area.

“With the new norms, over 70% of our projects won’t need green approval. In Maharashtra, the NHAI is implementing 3,000km of road projects. Although we will need permission for tree felling and subsequently wildlife and forest clearances, we will not be require to submit EIAs,” said a senior NHAI official.

He added that over 9,500km highway/road projects are to be awarded this year, which will also benefit from this decision. Similarly, in the context of excavation of earth for highways, mining of soil in less than 2 hectare and up to 2 metre deep will not require EC.

Although this is perhaps the biggest ever relief that government provided to revive the highway sector, which has been hit by economic slowdown, the move has left the greens fuming. The NHAI is not environment-conscious and hence has put pressure on PMO to get rid of environment issues, they said.

Kishor Rithe, member of standing committee, National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the highest decision-making body on wildlife issues, says the move will have overall negative impact on environment in the entire country if project proponents do not take appropriate mitigation measures.

“The projects outside 10km of eco-sensitive zones, but within the wildlife corridors, won’t come to the NBWL for clearance. In such situation there is no EC required. I predict massive destruction as no one will ensure mitigation measures. If MoEF wants to give such relaxation, they should be very strict with mitigation measures,” said Rithe.

“However, the green sops will not change the status of NH7 and NH6, where the fate of the stalled road work in patches near sanctuaries will be decided by NBWL. On NH7 (Nagpur-Jabalpur Road), the project falls within 10km of Pench reserve and Mansinghdeo sanctuary. Similarly, on NH6 (Bhandara-Deori), it is within 10km from Navegaon. Here, NHAI will have to get forest and wildlife clearances as per the Environment Protection Act 1986,” said Prafulla Bhamburkar, manager, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

The exemption from environmental clearance granted to National Highways Authority of India for stretches up to 100km in length and 40m in width has attracted criticism from the greens.




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