In a desperate bid to project unity within the government, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Tuesday put its foot down to avoid a legal battle between the Highways and Environment ministries over delayed project clearances that affected road construction in a big way.

The PMO summoned the secretaries of the ministries of Road Transport and Highways and Environment and Forest, and Chairman of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to find a solution to the problem that has embarrassed the government.

The NHAI had moved the Supreme Court, following an affidavit filed by the Environment Ministry, saying that environment clearance was not required for forests along those national highways that required widening.

Highways Ministry officials maintained that the Forest Rights Act was not applicable to afforestation along national highways.

After the meeting, they denied any kind of confrontation with the Environment Ministry and sought to underline that the government was a united entity and that it worked in the public interest, ensuring the sustainability of ecology while putting up projects.

While the officials were tight-lipped, it was clear that the PMO had issued a clear directive to NHAI to withdraw its petition from the Supreme Court and avoid confrontation.

The NHAI was working on modalities and the legal officers would decide on their future course of action.

The PMO did not spare the Environment Ministry either and ordered that it move in the right direction to resolve the problem. The Ministry has agreed to relax its guidelines to permit phased preparation and processing of linear projects.

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