Half of judicial energy is spent on waking up the government, the National Green Tribunal on Monday said slamming the Centre for not setting up committees for examining environmental impact of hydroelectric projects and development work in Uttarakhand after the recent natural disaster in the state.
The NGT also pulled up the National Highway Authorities of India (NHAI) and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) for not filing their reports and imposed costs of Rs. 25,000 each on them.
“Half of judicial energy is spent on waking up the government,” a bench headed by former Supreme Court judge and NGT Chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar said directing the MoEF to “start acting as peoples lives are concerned.”
The bench also said it is “surprising” that even in a matter of such sensitivity, the committees have not yet been constituted and directed the Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to expeditiously comply with the Tribunal’s orders and set up the committees and ensure they begin working within one week.
NHAI faced flak for asserting there is no section of road in Uttarakhand which has a chance of being affected by landslides, a claim which the Tribunal held to be “factually incorrect.”
It was also unable to show whether it conducted any geological or environmental impact assessment study prior to building or widening highways in Uttarakhand.
The NDMA was pulled up by the bench for not spelling out a single step taken by it to ensure restoration of ecological balance, public welfare and rehabilitation in the state.
The Border Roads Organisation too faced NGT’s ire when it stated it is not required to get environmental clearance or conduct an environment impact assessment prior to building roads. It, however, claimed to have conducted structural stability tests of the roads.
“Is it proper you play with lives of people.... You do not bother to conduct studies before constructing or widening roads to see if they are stable. If you conducted structural stability tests, how come most of the roads were washed away into the rivers?” the bench said.
Granting one last opportunity to NHAI and NDMA to file their reports and affidavits, the Tribunal imposed costs saying “discipline needs to be maintained.” The matter has been listed for September 26.
The observations and the order were made by the bench after MoEF sought three weeks time to set up the two committees, one as per the apex court orders to examine the environmental impact of 24 hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand and another to monitor the post-calamity development work there.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand government on Monday filed its affidavit stating it is seriously complying with orders of the Tribunal and sought more time to file a comprehensive report as the current one is in vernacular language and requires to be translated.
The government was, however, unable to answer the bench’s query about a single example of the steps it has claimed to have taken to ensure restoration of ecological balance in the state and prevention of re-occurrence of such a disaster.
Instead, the lawyer, appearing for the state, submitted letters have been issued to all district magistrates (DM) to ensure no fresh construction takes place and to halt those already begun.
Keywords: National Green Tribunal, National Highways Authority, Uttarakhand floods, landslips, Uttarakhand landslides, Himalayan ecosystem, Char Dham yatra, Uttarakhand rescue, disaster management, Kedarnath, National Disaster Relief Force