No need for obtaining environmental clearances for a small piece of land on NH-45-A on Villuppuram-Nagapattinam Highway. Supreme Court gave this decision in the case of The National Highways Authority of India vs. Pandarinathan Govindarajulu & others [Civil Appeal No. 4035-4037 of 2020] presided over by the single bench of Hon’ble Justice L.Nageswara Rao.
In the instant case, previously, Madras High Court had given the judgment that the environmental clearances were necessary for the land acquisition required for NH-45A on Villuppuram-Nagapattinam Highway.
The SC bench observed that adoption of segmentation of a project wouldn’t be adopted as a strategy to avoid environmental clearance impact assessment. It was directed to the ministries of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India to examine if segmentation is permissible for National Highway projects beyond a distance of 100 km. And later on, it was noted that there was no requirement of prior environmental clearance for expansion of a National Highway.
SC bench contended that development and environment should go hand-in-hand. And in no chance, the damage must be done to the environment in order to develop other things. SC observed that “There should not be developed at the cost of environment and vice versa, but there should be development while taking due care and ensuring the protection of the environment” and “Apart from providing a smooth flow of public goods and services which contribute to the economic growth, highways also benefit regional development in the country. In the normal course, impediments should not be created in the matter of National Highways which provide the much-needed transportation infrastructure. At the same time, protection of the environment is important”.
However, the SC bench noted that HC wasn’t completely wrong while interpreting the situation and the notification of the provision and agreed with the fact that the project proponent is permitted to divide projects having a distance beyond 100 km into packages that are less than 100 km.
It was then contended that “Adoption of segmentation of a project cannot be adopted as a strategy to avoid environmental clearance impact assessment, the question that arises is whether segmentation of a National Highway beyond 100 km is impermissible under any circumstance”.
SC clarified that right of way is the total land width required for the project Highway to accommodate the right of way, side drains, service roads. Hence, SC held that “Right to Way” includes the existing National Highway and the additional right of way.
Hence, while dismissing the appeal, SC gave the decision to NHAI to strictly conform to the EIA notifications in the matter of acquisition of land being restricted to 40 meters on the existing alignments and 60 meters on realignments, and also to fulfill the requirement of re-afforestation in accordance with the existing legal regime.