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Doon Expressway: SC Remands Back Plea Challenging Forest Clearances To NGT, Stays Tree Felling

Doon Expressway
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday remanded back to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) a plea challenging forest clearances granted to Delhi-Dehradun Economic Corridor Expressway which will reduce travel time between the two cities by four hours. The top court also stayed felling of around 11,000 trees and plants on the Ganeshpur-Dehradun Road (NH-72A) stretch, which is part of the Delhi-Dehradun Economic Corridor until November 26. The new six-lane highway will reduce the travel time from 6.5 hours to just 2.5 hours as per the plan of the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and would have a 12-kilometer elevated road to protect the wildlife and forests.A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and Vikram Nath set aside an earlier order of Green Tribunal and asked it to consider afresh a plea of NGO ‘Citizens for Green Doon’ which has challenged the Stage-1 and Stage-2 Clearances and tree felling permissions. 
The bench asked the NGT to pass a reasoned order on each of the averments made by the NGO and asked it to list the matter within 24 hours of filing the plea.It also granted liberty to the NGO to move the NGT within a week with all its averments and said its observations in the matter will not come in the way of deciding the issue on merit.The top court said that the NGT’s order of October 6 dismissing the plea of the NGO is in error as it did not consider the earlier judgements on the issue.During the hearing, Attorney General KK Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, said that this project should not be stayed in the public interest as all necessary clearances were taken by the NHAI.“Years of planning have gone into it before the project was started. This project takes care of wildlife and forests in the area and for the first time in the country a 12 kilometer elevated road is being constructed above the forests to not disrupt the path of elephants and other wild animals,” he said.
Venugopal said that this road without blocking the elephant corridor or the path of any other wild animals will allow smooth travel of vehicles and would reduce the travel time between the two cities.“If the court stays the project till the disposal of the plea by the NGT, it will delay the project which is of massive public importance. All clearances were taken as per the law and they were uploaded on the website of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. 
There was no question of suppression of these facts,” he said.Senior advocate Anita Shenoy, appearing for the NGO, said that they have filed an RTI before the Divisional Forest Officer of Saharanpur seeking to know whether an order for tree felling has been passed, which was categorically denied.
“They have tried to suppress the facts and clearances as under the law they were required to put it in the public domain. They did not put the tree felling permission on their websites which is in the public domain and hence their permission is illegal and the tree felling done is illegal,” Shenoy said.She said that mitigation steps which the Centre is talking about for the protection of flora and fauna are not implemented and would destroy the forests and endanger the wildlife in the area.The bench said that all these arguments can be made before the NGT and it will be appropriate if the court has the benefit of the judgement of the Green Panel, which deals exclusively with environmental matters.On November 11, the top court had directed the Centre that there should not be any tree felling on the Ganeshpur-Dehradun Road (NH-72A), which is a part of the Delhi-Dehradun expressway till November 16.The top court has also expressed its anguish with the way the NGT has dealt with the issue and said the kind of orders which are nowadays passed by the tribunal is “totally unsatisfactory”.On September 7, the top court had refused to entertain a PIL filed by the NGO challenging the forest and wildlife clearances given to Ganeshpur-Dehradun Road (NH-72A) stretch and asked them to first move the NGT with its grievances.The top court had noted that stage one forest clearance was given in September last year and wildlife clearance was given on January 5, 2021, for a 19.78-km-long stretch of the road from Ganeshpur (in UP) to Dehradun.Delhi-Dehradun Expressway will directly connect the two cities after crisscrossing areas like Loni, Baghpat, Shamli, Saharanpur, and Ganeshpur in Uttar Pradesh.Uttarakhand will have 3.6 kilometres of the expressway while around 16 kilometres will pass through Uttar Pradesh.  —PTI