The National Green Tribunal gave a go-ahead to the construction of the Delhi-Dehradun expressway, which is expected to reduce travel time between the two cities to under three hours from the 5-6 hours it takes currently. With the tribunal’s nod to the project, around 11,000 trees are set to be axed on a 19-kmlong stretch of the expressway from Ganeshpur to Asharodi (NH-72A). "We find it difficult to hold that there is no application of mind by the ministry of environment, forest, and climate change (Mo-EF&CC) in granting forest cell clearance," said the order passed by a bench headed by NGT chairperson, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
The petitioners, Doon-based NGO ‘Citizens for Green Doon’ had approached the Supreme Court earlier this year to avoid the tree felling. The apex court had referred the matter to NGT. The petitioners contended that being almost 210-km-long, the project should have undergone a mandatory environmental impact assessment (EIA), which it didn't. However, the tribunal ruled that it "wasn't required." "Overall road connectivity cannot be taken to be one project for the purpose," the bench stated.
The tribunal said that the Delhi-Dehradun highway is an important highway that connects Delhi, Haryana and Western UP to Dehradun and higher reaches of Himalayas and 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 order stressed on the need to ensure that mitigation measures are effectively implemented and monitored on-ground by the National Highways Authority of India. The NGT set up a 12-member committee comprising government officials from organisations such as the Central Pollution Control Board, Wildlife Institute of India, and the Forest Research Institute to be headed by the chief secretary of Uttarakhand.
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