Even as delays in securing approvals for highway projects from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) hog the limelight, data shows 307 road projects are awaiting nods from the ministry.
“Due to the involvement of a number of agencies and procedural requirements, a total of 307 cases, including cases with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), were pending environmental and forest clearances until October 2012,” said a road transport ministry official. “These cases are mainly for widening of carriageways to augment capacity.”
Officials claimed environment and forest clearances took between 300 days and three years. Minister of Road Transport and Highways C P Joshi told Business Standard: “After the Supreme Court’s 2011 judgment on Lafarge, the environment ministry has issued a new directive linking environment clearances and forest clearances. This circular from the ministry is causing problems.”
Delays in project execution were mainly due to linking the clearances, as well as the need to obtain a no-objection certificate from the Gram Sabha of the village concerned, under the Forest Rights Act.
Earlier, environment clearances were de-linked from forest clearances. This meant work in non-forest areas could start, while work in forest areas could be undertaken after securing a forest clearance.
Joshi said: “After April 2011, most highway projects are stuck due to (the absence of) green clearances.” According to an official of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), 22 highway projects (of the 307 road projects) are awaiting clearances from the ministry.
The issue of environmental clearances delaying road projects had recently taken centre stage when GMR pulled out of the Ahmedabad-Kishangarh highway project. The company cited the delay in getting an environment clearance as one of the reasons for the move. Following this, NHAI approached the Supreme Court for modification or clarification of the Lafarge judgment that linked environment and forest clearances.
MoEF officials, however, say the projects were delayed due to incomplete documents and paperwork. “We have not received complete documents from NHAI related to the pending projects. How can the ministry grant clearances based on incomplete information?” asked an MoEF official.