NGT allows Delhi-Dehradun Expressway, forms 12 member panel to ensure no damage is caused to environment

The green panel appointed an independent twelve-member expert committee to be headed by Chief Secretary, Uttarakhand with nominees of Wildlife Institute of India, Central Pollution Control Board, Uttarakhand State PCB and others.

The National Green Tribunal Monday allowed the Delhi-Dehradun Economic Corridor Expressway and formed a 12 member committee to ensure no damage is caused to the environment by unscientific muck dumping or obstruction of animal corridor on the Ganeshpur-Dehradun Road (NH-72A) stretch.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said it finds it difficult to hold that there was no application of mind in appraisal by the Union Environment Ministry for granting Forest Clearance to the project.

"Once the project is held to be duly appraised, stage II/tree felling clearance are consequential. We may, however, observe that for the sake of transparency, stage II clearance/tree cutting permission must be prompt after stage I and it must be uploaded on the website forthwith.”

"Even while upholding FC clearance, we find it necessary that mitigation measures are effectively implemented and monitored on the ground by the NHAI and the same are overseen by an independent mechanism," said the bench also comprising Justice Sudhir Agarwal and expert member Dr Nagin Nanda.

The green panel appointed an independent twelve-member expert committee to be headed by Chief Secretary, Uttarakhand with nominees of Wildlife Institute of India, Central Pollution Control Board, Uttarakhand State PCB and others.

"The Committee may meet within two weeks to take stock of the situation and plan further course of action. The Committee may thereafter meet atleast once in a month or at such earlier intervals as found necessary. Except for physical inspection, the Committee is free to hold virtual/hybrid meetings.”

"Any stakeholder will be free to represent to the Committee to consider remedial measures and if any grievance survives, to take remedies in accordance with law. We further direct that additional compensatory afforestation may be undertaken by NHAI through concerned Forest Departments on 10 ha of land each in Uttarakhand and UP," the bench said it directed the National Highway Authority of India to deposit ₹1 crore in a separate account for research of Sal regeneration, in collaboration with Forest Departments of Uttarakhand and UP and any other institution, as may be found necessary.

"Adequate provision may be made for mitigation measures for protection of wildlife in case funds allocated for the purpose are found inadequate by the Committee.”

"Steps to be monitored will also include cordoning of elevated roads and other ecological sensitive stretches with proper barriers to absorb light and noise, fitting of cameras at strategic locations to monitor protection of wildlife movement and their habitats, mechanism for rescuing animals in case of any accidents, awareness for care and protection of wildlife," it said.

The tribunal said Delhi Dehradun Highway including NH-72A is an important highway connecting Delhi, Haryana and Western UP to Dehradun and higher reaches of Himalayas through Dehradun.

"Hence, the capacity augmentation of this highway is not only important for connecting the State Capital of Uttarakhand with National Capital, but is also vital for Strategic defence purposes for timely and seamless movement of Army/ warheads to higher reaches of Himalayas.”

"The present stretch carries traffic more than 20,000 equivalent passenger car units (PCUs) per day which is much beyond the 2-lane capacity of 10,500 PCU, necessitating urgent upgradation of highway capacity," it said.

The bench said the travel time between the two cities on the existing Highway (NH-72A) currently is 6-7 hours in the Non-Peak Hours and more than 8 hours during the Peak Hours.

"The average travelling time between Ganeshpur to Dehradun (20.7KM Stretch) is 45 – 60 mins during Tourist/Yatra season, which extends to 2 hours leading to frequent traffic jams, resulting in significant increase in Air & Sound pollution in the area and also safety hazards to road users.”

"Longer Travel time of vehicles in forest zone means longer time of disturbance to wildlife also. Another major reason necessitating the development of the project site is the poor geometrics of the existing road which leads to occurrence of road accidents in this stretch," the bench said.

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