The Supreme Court has said that environmental clearances for developmental projects need to be taken only before "the actual construction" of the project in question, and not while the process of land acquisition for such projects is underway.
The apex court made the observation in context of the controversial Chennai-Salem Expressway, whose land acquisition was put on hold by a Madras High Court verdict in April 2019. The SC has now overturned the high court's ruling, allowing the NHAI to seek environmental clearance only prior to construction of the highway.
"It is premature to seek environmental clearances when intention for land acquisition is underway. These clearances can happen only after acquisition proceedings see logical end," said the court, while giving the green signal for the Chennai-Salem Expressway.
Last year, the Madras High Court ordered to halt the land acquisition activity for the proposed expressway, while hearing 35 petitions against the project. One of the petitioners was former union minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss.
While the 277-kilometre expressway is expected to cut down travel time between Chennai and Salem to just 150 minutes, petitioners claimed that the project will cut through forest area and riverbeds, thereby upsetting the ecological makeup of the region.
The SC, however, questioned the need to seek clearances while the project is a proposal: "How is it possible to get environmental clearances even before identifying the exact site for the highway?"
While the ruling may come as a setback for environmental activists campaigning against the project, and similar initiatives, the SC upheld the right of affected persons to move court against the project once environmental clearances are in. "The affected persons to approach appropriate forum on the validity of environmental clearances," it said.
First Published: IST