HC puts on hold NH 45 expansion project in TN for want of EIA

Chennai, Jan 8 (PTI) The Madras High Court on Wednesday put on hold the expansion of a stretch of a national highway between Villupuram and Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu and directed the NHIA to undertake an EIA study and obtain environmental clearance.

A bench comprising Justice M Sathyanarayanan and Justice N Seshasayee gave the interim direction on a batch of petitions challenging the expansion of 179.5 km of NH45 on ground that no environmental impact assessment (EIA) study was undertaken to evaluate the environmental viability of the project.

Directing the National High Ways Authority (NHAI) to maintain status quo, the court told it to approach the court before the resumption of the project, part of 'Bharatmala Pariyojana' which is an umbrella programme for the highways sector.

While underlinging the importance of EIA, the bench said courts cannot ignore the legislative spirit in balancing the need for development alongside the preservation of environment.

Therefore the project need not be shelved, it may be put on hold and the NHAI was now required to undertake a EIA study and to go for environmental clearance as well as the Costal Reguation Zone approval. It can then proceed with the work, if the project gets environment clearance.

If the EIA study provides any contra indicators to the NHAIs plan of development of NH-45 A it will be at liberty to make necessary alteration and medications to make the project environmentally viable, the bench said.

It also ordered NHAI to first identify the places for planting the saplings of the same variety, preferably native trees for every tree felled.

Referring to the objections of the 60 odd petitioners, including social activist Traffic Ramaswamy, to the need of Bharatmala project, the bench said several orders had been pronounced emphasising that the power of judicial review should not stretch into the executive's legitimate domain of policy making.

In plain terms, this court holds that it will not enter into spheres earmarked for the executive where not even malafide is pleaded, it said. PTI CORR VS VS