The National Green Tribunal, Southern Bench, has categorically told the Theni Collector that no expansion activity should be carried out on the hilly road to Meghamalai until an environment clearance (EC) was obtained from the authority competent under the EIA Notification, 2006.
Asking for a Status Report at the next hearing, NGT judicial member Justice P. Jyothimani and expert member P.S. Rao ordered the Secretary, Environment and Forests, Tamil Nadu government, to ensure that no one breaches its order.
Taking note of the fact that the respondents in the case, including the Theni Collector, had not obtained the EC and the Forest Clearance (FC), about which a report appeared in The Hindu , the NGT had passed an order of injunction on April 28 against proceeding with the widening of 35-km road stretch between Thenpalani and highways in Theni district, including the cutting of any trees until further orders from the tribunal.
Contesting this, the Collector had filed an affidavit stating that permission from various authorities, including the Revenue Department as well as the Forest Department, had been obtained for the purpose of widening of the road. He also stated that the revenue records maintained showed that the area was categorised as ‘Salai’, and therefore it was not a forest area.
He further said the roads leading to Meghamalai were in a highly dilapidated condition and it was impossible for the people working in the hilly terrain to reach other places.
The right of way available was 14 to 22 metres, which was sufficient for the widening of road to Intermediate Lane standard, he said. In its order, the NGT pointed that the EIA Notification 2006, Clause 7(f) of fourth column deals with the State Highway Expansion projects in hilly terrain (Above 1000 metres above mean sea level) and or ecologically sensitive areas.
“Therefore, as per EIA notification it is clear that in respect of any hilly terrain, this place admittedly [being] a hilly terrain, prior environmental clearance is required for the purpose of widening of the road, if it is belonging to State Highways,” the NGT said. “In view of the admitted position that from 6 to 35 km area was a hilly terrain, even if some portions are less than 1000 metre height, environmental clearance is a required condition, since necessary study impacts have to be taken up. In these hilly terrains, there are always possibilities of soil erosion which leads to disastrous consequences, affecting the ecology of the area,” the NGT noted.
“In such view of the matter, the interim passed by this tribunal is made absolute,” the Southern Bench said. However, it allowed the respondents to proceed with the work in 0 to 6 km, which was a plain area, but cutting trees needed permission from the competent authorities.
The NGT also allowed maintenance or repair of the existing road and disposed the Collector’s petition. The original applicant, M. Saravanan of Villapuram in Madurai, had asked for prohibiting the respondents – Madurai Conservator of Forests, Theni Collector, Meghamalai Wildlife Sanctuary and Superintending Engineer, Highways Department, Theni – from illegally widening this stretch leading to Meghamalai.
Giving the respondents three weeks to file reply to the main application, the NGT scheduled the next hearing on July 26.
Credits The Hindu