Waht is the Ministry of Environment and Forest to do? If it continues to fell trees for the purpose of widering of NH 7, the NGT’s order is flouted; if it stops felling trees, the High Court says it is contempt of court! The debate on widening of the National Highway-7 (NH-7) continued during the hearing on the matter at the principal bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) at New Delhi on Friday with the bench questioning the basis for exempting NH-7 from the ambit of National Board for Wildlife for permission to widen the road.
The NGT was hearing petitions by NGOs Conservation Action Trust (CAT) and Srushti Paryavaran Mandal that sought stoppage of tree felling earlier allowed by the Maharashtra’s Forest department following directives of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court. During its earlier hearing, the green tribunal had stayed the forest department order. Contradicting this, the HC directed the forest department to allow felling for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to begin the road widening work and also warned of contempt proceedings if its directives were not followed. Following this, the forest department had allowed felling of trees.
It may be mentioned here that NGT is headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar who has been CJI. Justice Kumar has agreed with the petitioner’s contention that any allowance for NHAI work on Maharashtra side of the road will serve as a fait accompli for the Madhya Pradesh side of the road. He asked National Tiger Conservation Authority, MOEF and MP government to file their replies within 10 days.
The next hearing is on July 27.. Accusing MOEF of making a “mockery of law”, Justice Kumar asked MOEF under “what authority of law” had the rules been relaxed. He said NHAI and MOEF counsels were not filing replies in time, thereby causing delay in proceedings within the stipulated one year. He asked the counsels to go back to their respective ministers to discuss the matter.