The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has rapped the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways for failing to submit a plan for disposal of muck from the Chardham highway project to provide all-weather connectivity to four holy towns of Uttarakhand.
A bench headed by Acting Chairperson Justice Jawad Rahim took strong exception to the plea of the ministry seeking adjournment and directed that its previous undertaking to not cut trees would continue till the next date of hearing.
The green panel reiterated that there would be no activity by the project proponent which would have adverse impact on environment.
"In view of the serious challenge posed by the applicant and insistence by them for interim order, we acceded to the request of the respondent state and project proponent, we had adjourn to a short date. When the case is taken up today it is submitted that advocate for project proponent is not in a position to appear as he is busy...
"Even muck dumping plan which we had directed to file has not been filed or produced today. This can hardly be appreciated. Be that as it may, on the request...we restrain ourselves from impose cost but we make it clear that no further adjournment would be granted in the case," the bench said.
The petitioner NGO sought an interim order to restrain the project proponent from carrying out any activity, saying that they had already chopped more than 25,000 trees and were now in the process of cutting more species of trees which would seriously impact the environment.
The matter has been posted for next hearing on April 19.
The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by Dehradun-based NGO Citizens For Green Doon and others seeking a stay on the Chardham project and directions to identify stretches of highways where landslides were likely to occur due to recent cutting of trees.
It had alleged that the road widening work to connect Kedarnath, Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri in Uttarakhand was being carried out in violation of environmental laws.
"The Chardham project involves excavating and cutting away the base of the steep mountain slopes, cutting. of thousands of valuable trees and thus further destabilising the mountains and in fact turning the entire area into an active landslide zone.
"It is pertinent to mention that not only will this block traffic and disrupt local life and tourist inflow greatly but in every monsoon, people will lose their lives when the landslides fall with even greater force," the plea had said, adding that the area fell in a highly seismic zone with a history of earthquakes.
The plea had claimed that there was no information published for any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regarding this project and it was nowhere found in the public domain whether the EIA of this 900-km massive project, costing around Rs 12,000 crore, was conducted or not.
"The applicants came to know about the execution of this project after massive cutting of trees on the different segments of this Chardham route (Rishikesh to Gangotri, Dharasu to Yamunotri, Rishikesh to Kedarnath and Badrinath) which recently started in the month of December, 2017," the plea had said.
It has been claimed in the petition that these Stage I and II forest clearance approvals were granted segment-wise and the number of trees in the forests to be cut were not declared for the entire project. Instead, the project has been divided into numbers of segments for granting of approvals.
The tribunal had last year disposed a similar plea challenging the project after Border Roads Organisation (BRO) assured the NGT that they would carry out the project after due compliance with the laws, especially the Bhagirathi eco-sensitive zone notification of December 18, 2012.
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