11,000 trees to be cut as Supreme Court okays Delhi-Dehradun expressway
The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the national highway authority’s Delhi-Dehradun expressway project but recast the green tribunal-appointed expert panel for scrupulous implementation of mitigation of damages to environment as well as compensatory afforestation. Once the project is completed, travel time between Delhi and Dehradun is expected to be halved from present 5-6 hours.
A bench of justices DY Chandrachud and Aniruddha Bose ordered that the expert panel would be headed by director general (forest) CP Goyal in the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change instead of the chief secretary of Uttarakhand, as ordered by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on December 13 last year.
It also accepted the suggestion from attorney general KK Venugopal and solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), respectively, to draft in Anil Prakash Joshi, environmentalist, green activist and founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation. The bench brushed aside the petitioner NGO’s objection to Joshi’s inclusion.
The Centre and NHAI also accepted inclusion of eco-restoration practitioner Vijay Dashmana, who is acclaimed for converting 380 acres of barren land into urban forest ‘Aravalli Biodiversity Park’, on the suggestion of the NGO.
The bench asked the reconstituted expert panel to scrupulously implement all environment protection measures recommended and especially the height of the underpass/flyovers as well as compensatory afforestation.
The problem point in the Delhi-Doon expressway was a 20km stretch from Ganeshpur in UP to Asharodi in Uttarakhand that required 11,000 trees to be cut down, which was flagged by NGO ‘Citizens for Green Doon’. The NGT had cleared the project and created an expert group headed by the chief secretary of Uttarakhand for mitigating damage to the environment.
The NGT had cleared the project on December 13, saying the Delhi-Dehradun expressway is an important highway connecting Delhi, Haryana and Western UP to Dehradun and higher reaches of Himalayas and hence “the capacity augmentation of this highway is not only important for connecting the state capital of Uttarakhand with national capital, but is also vital for strategic defence purposes for timely and seamless movement of Army/warheads to higher reaches of Himalayas”.
The NGT had set up a 12-member committee comprising government officials from organisations such as the Central Pollution Control Board, Wildlife Institute of India, and the Forest Research Institute to be headed by the chief secretary of Uttarakhand.