Vijay Pinjarkar | Mar 25, 2015, 03.07 AM IST
NAGPUR: Even as tree felling between Mansar and Khawasa on NH-7 commenced, debate over four-laning of the road continues. After TOI exposed union environment minister's Prakash Javadekar's double standards on the widening, conservationists have red-flagged violation and dilution of multiple laws in a bid to widen NH-7.
"Acts can only be changed or amended by parliament - not by issuing circulars as per convenience," they said. In case of linear projects like highways, a circular of 2013 was issued by the MoEFCC that road projects up to 100-km length would not require environment clearance (EC). It also said projects that did not require EC would also not need National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) approval.
"The NHAI conveniently broke the NH-7 into small sections to get rid of clearances," they alleged. "Did MoEFCC and state forest department violate Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 by not getting NBWL clearance for NH-7?" they asked. MoEFCC has already admitted to legal lacunae in its clearance processes before NGT on March 20th, 2015. MoEFCC exempted the NH-7 from the EC process to by-pass the Supreme Court ruling asking projects with EC requirement to be passed by NBWL, they said.
"How can MoEFCC by-pass a law...Has the BJP government stripped parliament of its powers in its hurry to develop highways at any cost ignoring the needs of environment. We are slowly turning into China where the government denies citizens of all rights," said a section of legal experts.
Experts say Section 38(O) g of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, granted power to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to ensure tiger reserves and areas linking one PA or tiger reserve with another were not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses, except in public interest and with the approval of NBWL on the advice of NTCA. In case of NH-7, the 37-km (Mansar-Khawasa) road widening proposal should have gone to the NBWL but this has been completely by-passed.
"I think NH-7 expansion on Maharashtra side should go to NBWL first and only then should felling start (subject to final approval from the state government under Section 2 of FCA 1980)," a lawyer stated. He added that the NH-7 section passes through important wildlife corridors and NTCA should immediately write to the state government to stop the felling of trees and revoke any working permits by using powers given to NTCA under Section 38.
HOW LAWS WERE VIOLATED FOR NH-7
* FCA Violation: On August 8th, 2014, MoEFCC allows tree felling for linear projects without final clearance of state government. This is violation of FCA 1980
* EC exemption: Linear projects have a lot of environmental impact. Linear projects up to 100km in length were exempted from EC. NHAI arbitrarily cut the projects into sections to take advantage of this rule
* NBWL exemption: The lack of EC allows NHAI to bypass Goa Foundation order of SC that says any project with EC and within 10km of any PA must get NBWL clearance
* Wildlife Protection Act: This law specifies that any project harming tiger corridor has to be cleared by NBWL. This has not been done
* No Gram Sabha consent: Forest Rights Act (FRA) specifies that consent of Gram Sabha is a must for any forest land diversion. Linear projects exempted from this to by-pass provisions of FRA. The Ministry of tribal affairs also objects to this
* NBWL guidelines on roads: NBWL approved MK Ranjitsinh Committee report on roads in and outside PAs. It says any road within 1km radial distance of a PA has to be considered as road passing within PA
* FC moved to regional offices: Clearances for forest land diversion moved to regional offices which are not transparent. They do not put documentation online which is a violation of NGT rulings
* Right of appeal taken away: The law allows every citizen a statutory right of appeal. By allowing tree felling before final clearance of state government, the common citizen has been denied the right of appeal
* Contempt of NGT: Various NGT orders have reiterated the law that with any diversion of forest land, felling can only be done after final approval of state government. All NGT orders flouted
* Fait Accompli situation: Once trees are cut, albeit illegally, the damage has been done and public money already spent
* NHAI is presenting the authorities with a fait accompli situation violating SC order
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