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Supreme Court’s Decision on NHAI Projects Pre-2020 Environmental Clearance Relaxation

In a recent development, the Supreme Court has provided assurance to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) regarding projects initiated prior to the striking down of a COVID-era notification. This notification had relaxed the necessity of obtaining environmental clearance (EC) for certain projects.

Focus on Environmental Clearance Relaxation

The clause in question, part of the COVID-era notification, exempted linear projects like roads and pipelines from the requirement of prior environmental clearances for soil extraction. However, on March 24, the Supreme Court struck down this clause, criticizing the haste with which the notification was issued.

NHAI’s Plea and Court’s Response

NHAI, through Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, filed a plea seeking permission to proceed with projects for which work orders were issued before the March 24 judgment. The Court, represented by a Bench of Justices Abhay S Oka and Sanjay Karol, assured NHAI that these projects would not be affected. However, they requested a list of such projects along with their respective work orders. The next hearing on this matter is scheduled for July.

Background on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification

The 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification mandates obtaining environmental clearances before commencing any activity with potential environmental impact. However, a March 2020 notification relaxed this requirement for specific projects.

Legal Proceedings

Challenges against the 2020 notification reached the Supreme Court after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) declined to quash it. The Court concluded that the notification violated Environment Protection Rules. Notably, it highlighted the absence of recorded satisfaction by the competent authority regarding the necessity or public interest behind such a notification.

Representation in Court

Senior Advocate Anitha Shenoy represented the original appellant, who initially petitioned before the NGT.

This development marks an important legal stride in balancing infrastructure development with environmental concerns, ensuring accountability in regulatory processes.

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Saurabh is an impassioned environmental journalist dedicated to uncovering stories that shed light on pressing ecological issues. Through his writing, he aims to inspire action and promote greater awareness of our collective responsibility to safeguard the planet for future generations.