The proposed expansion of the NH7 which threatens the Kanha Pench corridor, India’s best tiger corridor, due to the refusal of NHAI to accept mitigation measures proposed by statutory authorities was heard in National Green Tribunal NGT.
NTCA Member Secretary B.S. Bonal appeared before the National Green Tribunal to file a reply, after an arrest warrant was issued in his name last week by the NGT.
Counsel for Conservation Action Trust, Adv. Madhavi Divan pleaded for 3 days time to file replies as they received the reply of the NTCA only yesterday.
The court asked Member Secretary NTCA as to why their reply was delayed, to which Bonal replied that this was due to shifting of NTCA office. Informed sources say that the draft reply of the NTCA was delayed due to Minister Javadekars inability to take a speedy decision in favour of mitigation measures.
NHAI counsel Pinaki Mishra produced maps to show that the forest area in Maharashtra is not a tiger corridor and therefore out of the purview of Section 38.O.g. NTCA Member Secretary replied that there is evidence of tiger movement in the area in question.
The Bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar asked the NTCA if they had approved the mitigation plans. Bonal replied in the affirmative. However, the petitioners pointed put that the NTCA affidavit did not include the mitigation measures report.
Counsels for Srushti Paryavaran Mandal Adv. Ritwick Dutta countered that the area was indeed a corridor between Kanha and Pench and Pench and Nagzira and produced a report by the WII-NTCA on corridors of the entire country which mentions that the area is a corridor and further goes on to say that the proposed area is threatened by the expansion of NH7. Ritwick Dutta also added that as per NTCA affidavit the report on corridors is pursuant to the principles of Section 38.O and thus all conditions of the corridor would apply.
This forced NHAI counsel Pinaki Mishra (also sitting Member of Pariament) to accede that NHAI is willing to build 750 meter long underpasses for animals. This goes against the stand of NHAI which so far, have been arguing that they will build 50 meter underpasses for animals.
Adv. Ritwick Dutta also said that here the NHAI is refusing to accept the decisions of statutory bodies and it is a case where the project proponent is suggesting mitigation measures. Further he said that the NHAI is trying to pass off a 4.97 crore conservation plan as mitigations and further this conservation plan has been developed by a local NGO which is not a statutory body.
Adv. Ritwick Dutta also said that project proponent trying to suggest mitigation measures is like the “Wildlife Institute of India being asked to build flyovers”. Adv. Ritwick Dutta also said that the petitioners were not interested in obstructing development but were for appropriate mitigation measures as per the law.
NHAI counsel Pinaki Mishra pointed out yesterday’s Nagpur High Court orders to clear fell the area in one month to expedite the construction of NH7. He said NHAI was caught between two courts. NGT Chairperson Swatanter Kumar retorted by saying that NHAI cannot fell trees as there is no question the NGT giving up its powers and that the interim order staying felling of trees will continue to operate till further orders.
Petitioner Nature Conservation Society, Amravati was represented by Adv. Saurabh Sharma
Counsels for all parties agreed to early hearing and fixed 5th August as the next date.