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Delinking of environment and forest clearances gets SC nod

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

The Supreme Court has approved the revised norms for infrastructure road projects that delink the environment and forest clearances - formulated by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) last month to end the face-off between the environment and forests ministry and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).

On the basis of its interpretation of a judgment in the case of Lafarge, the ministry had insisted such projects should take environment and forest clearances. It had issued a notification in 2011, saying forest clearance needs to be obtained before seeking environmental approval. Though the two clearances were not linked earlier, this notification stalled several projects at the first stage itself.

According to NHAI, the ministry's interpretation of the Lafarge judgment had stalled important highway projects, worth Rs 25,000 crore, causing heavy losses to the parties concerned. The dispute had then gone to the PMO and was resolved last month at a high-level meeting. Following the agreement, the ministry had filed an application to withdraw its objections.

The Bench, presided over by Justice Aftab Alam, has now approved the scheme, clearing the decks for the projects to go ahead. The approval came on Tuesday. However, the ministry has imposed certain conditions for the clearance. But the PMO formula and the court sanction have come as a great relief for NHAI.

In its application, the ministry agreed to allow modification of norms for excluding linear projects - road, rail and power transmission lines - to ensure green clearance got "delinked from forest clearance". Both parties agreed before the court to withdraw their objections and the court allowed it.

An impact analysis

* Rs 27,000 crore
Decks have been cleared for execution of 20 stalled highway projects, with Rs 27,000 crore worth of investment

* Shortened wait
After the SC verdict, a road project can start work as soon as it gets environment approval, unlike earlier, when forest clearance, too, had to be mandatorily taken

* 9,500 km
The court order comes as a major relief to the environment and forests ministry, which is facing problems in award of projects, and is unlikely to meet the target of awarding 9,500 km in 2012-13

* 1,100 km
Contracts for only over 1,100 km could be given by the government in the first three quarters of 2012-13

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First Published: Thu, March 14 2013. 00:50 IST