IS NH-7 TREE FELLING CONTEMPT OF NGT ORDER? - 20th March 2015

Vijay Pinjarkar 
 
Nagpur: With the recent ruling by the principal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) - that Stage I clearance for linear projects like highways cannot be considered as permission to start work - conservationists have termed the permission granted by the state government for road widening between Mansar and Khawasa on NH-7 as illegal.

The state government on February 11th, 2015, issued a working permit to NHAI to start felling trees for road widening along the entire stretch of 37km between Mansar and Khawasa based on the Stage 1 clearance.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) on August 8th, 2014 had issued a circular that Stage I clearance for linear projects like highways and railways will be deemed as working permission. The state government order issued on February 11th, is based on this MoEFCC circular.

However, city-based wildlife biologist Milind Pariwakam, who had filed a petition in NGT, said that the ministry order to grant working permission to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) is in complete violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act (FCA), 1980 and orders by NGT.

"The FCA does not envisage a working permit at all. So why did Maharashtra government issue such a permit?" Pariwakam asked. According to the FCA, work on felling trees and diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes can start only after a final approval is granted by the state government as per the FCA, 1980. The law on this has also been upheld by the NGT on various occasions.


Conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar said the felling of trees based on the forest department letter of February 11th, is completely illegal and the forest department had risked being in contempt of the NGT by issuing such a permission.

Pariwakam said "The ongoing felling of trees by NHAI will irreversibly damage one of the country's best tiger 'corridors'” and further expose tigers in Central India to the genetic risk of small populations. Wildlife experts even doubt the recent official tiger numbers, and accused the MoEFCC of dressing up the numbers to show all was well and use it as defence to push 'development'.

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