NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reconstituted the expert committee that would be looking into measures to ensure that the construction of the Delhi-Dehradun expressway does not impact the environment.
The top court was hearing an appeal against the final judgment and order on December 13, 2021 passed by the National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, where the tribunal had upheld the validity of the forest clearances granted to the project in question.
The bench has directed that the chairperson of the expert committee will be CP Goyal, Director-General of Forests in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
The top court also included Anil Prakash Joshi, founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO), and environmentalist Vijay Dhasmana as additional members of the oversight committee.
“...Dr Anil Prakash Joshi may be inducted in the committee. This court does not express any lack of confidence in the present Chief Secretary…The issues such as the height of the underpass and compensatory afforestation shall be considered by the committee. Mitigation measures should not be diluted and maybe strengthened. Having regard to the spirit in which matter has proceeded in this court, it shall not be considered as precedents in other pending cases. No view expressed on wider aspects,” the bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said.
The NGT had appointed a 12-member committee to oversee the operations. However, the counsel for the NGO Citizens for Green Doon had suggested that expert members on subjects concerning the environment should be included in the committee. The central government agreed to the suggestion.
The project in question involves the improvement, upgradation and expansion of the existing 20 km stretch of NH72A between Ganeshpur and Dehradun, which is part of the larger Delhi-Dehradun economic corridor, a highway project of 210 km which has been divided into four segments.
The NGO raised the issue of the validity of diversion of forest land for non-forest purposes and cutting of trees for widening and elevated corridor construction for a part of NH 72A between Dehradun and Delhi.
“The patches of land identified for compensatory afforestation are already moderately dense forests, of equivalent density to the forest land to be diverted (0.4 density). These can in no way be considered to be degraded forests. A scheme that contemplates plantations for compensatory afforestation on already dense forest land would go against the entire purpose of compensatory afforestation….It is submitted that no ecological purpose is served by creating forests on small patches of land, especially in the project area which is an important habitat for endangered species such as the tiger, elephant etc. and serves as a wildlife corridor,” the plea had said. The NGO was represented by lawyer Ritwick Dutta.
The new six-lane highway will reduce the travel time from 6.5 hours to just 2.5 hours as per the plan of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and would have a 12-kilometre elevated road to protect wildlife and forests.