A National Green Tribunal (NGT) bench headed by acting chairperson justice UD Salvi, has disposed of a plea challenging the forest clearance granted for the construction of the Agra-Lucknow Expressway, after it was informed that the final approval under the Forest Conservation Act had been granted to the project by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. “The counsel appearing on behalf of the project proponent submits that the final approval under the Forest Conservation Act has been granted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, vide communication dated January 16, 2017 and nothing survives in the present case,” the bench noted.
The directions came, after the NGT heard a plea by Lucknow native Nikhilesh Singh, against illegal felling of trees and construction activity in the forest area, which forms part of the six-lane Expressway being built by the UP Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA). The plea, filed through advocate Neelam Rathore, alleged that the Stage I in-principle approval, has been recommended by the Regional Empowered Committee (REC), despite recording violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 and specifically noting irregularities mentioned in the site inspection report.
Singh contended that the salient features of the project, as incorporated in the environmental clearance, stated that ‘only around 98.9 hectares of forest land was to be involved and about 27,582 trees were located on the Principal Right of Way (PRoW)’. “However, in its application for seeking the necessary in-principle approval, in terms of Section 2 of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, UPEIDA mentioned the total length of the Expressway proposed being 302.222 kms, comprising 3,429.1814 hectares of non-forest and 12,38,253 hectares of forest land, involving the felling of 65,342 trees,” the plea said.
“The estimated cost of the project was 11,526 crores. The reserved and protected forest lands proposed for the diversion are 109.27 hectares and 14.5543 hectares, respectively. There is, thus, an apparent inconsistency in the relevant information disclosed by the UPEIDA, for in-principle approval and for EC, with respect to the area of forest land and the number of trees involved in the proposal,” it said.