As Environment Ministry blocks highway projects, NHAI moves Supreme Court

FP

Claiming that the environment ministry's norms on green clearances were playing "havoc" with highway development projects, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) moved the Supreme Court Wednesday. It sought a "clarification/modification" of the 2011 judgment that prompted the ministry to come up with a new set of criteria.

Until the apex court's order in the case involving the cement major Lafarge, environment clearance was de-linked from forest clearance, and work on stretches outside forest areas could start, with construction on the remaining length beginning after NHAI received forest clearance. However, in the Lafarge case, the SC asked the Centre to make an interim arrangement for forest clearance until a national environment regulator was set up.

Following this, the environment ministry linked the two clearances in respect of widening of national highways as well. NHAI has now asked the SC to allow de-linking the two clearances.

NHAI said that due to the change in procedure after the MoEF's new memoranda, the execution and completion of more than 22 awarded highway projects had been stalled.

"Failure to obtain the environment clearance (EC)... results in the projects getting delayed indefinitely, which leads to disputes... and can even lead to termination of the contracts," the plea, filed through NHAI chief general manager RD Sharma, said. NHAI claimed that concessionaires have started terminating their agreements, on the pretext of delay in obtaining the EC.

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