The National Green Tribunal, on September 9, slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the Border Road Organisation (BRO) for failing to answer whether any environmental study was carried out before widening or construction of highways in Uttarakhand.
The tribunal, headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar, pulled up several other officials for failing to state how they would go about ecological restoration in the state and rebuild it safely.
NGT, during the hearing on August 26, had directed BRO’s director general and NHAI’s chairperson to file affidavits personally. The NHAI chairperson failed to file the affidavit. The affidavit filed by an officer on behalf of NHAI did not deal with any of the Tribunal’s directions.
“In the affidavit filed by NHAI, it is claimed that there is no section of National Highway entrusted to NHAI for construction in Uttarakhand where there are chances of land sliding. This statement is factually incorrect and is a matter of public knowledge,” the bench said.
Counsel for BRO stated in the tribunal that environment studies were not needed for road construction in these areas. The bench responded to this by saying: “Is it proper that you are playing with lives of the people of Uttarakhand and you don’t even care to undertake a study? How come all roads of Uttarakhand slid in this disaster?”
Counsel appearing for the Uttarakhand had submitted a reply but the 180 page report was in Hindi. The bench granted 10 days time to the state to file the report in English.
The bench rebuked Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) for failing to form committees which would assess environmental impact of hydel power projects in the state. “The counsel for MoEF submitted that committees have not been approved by the Competent Authority as of today. It is somewhat surprising that matter being of such sensitive nature and despite the fact that MoEF has received recommendations from the State of Uttarakhand, still Committees have not been constituted in terms of the order of the Tribunal,” the bench observed. The bench gave MoEF a week’s time to constitute the committees.
“MoEF in its reply has simply stated the list the studies sponsored by the MoEF in the State of Uttarakhand during the last three years. We direct the MoEF to file an additional affidavit stating as to what was the result of these studies, whether the reports were submitted, and if submitted, whether any action in furtherance thereto has been taken or not,” the bench said.
The next hearing is scheduled for September 26.