New Delhi: The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) told the National Green Tribunal that it has planted around 1 crore trees throughout the country in the past three years to maintain ecology and environmental balance.
NHAI told a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel that in compliance of the tribunal's directions an office memorandum (OM) was issued on December 12 last year and it was circulated to all project directors as well as to all the regional officers.
"The office memorandum stipulates creation of separate individual teams, consisting of regional officers, project director and one officer of the level of DGM(tech) /Manager (tech) with respect of all individual projects, highway projects being implemented by NHAI.
"The OM further provides that the teams created will undertake the work of green belt development, maintenance and protection thereof. It also provided that the task force so created will undertake the work of removal of encroachment on national highways," NHAI said in a compliance affidavit.
It said that NHAI and National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation strictly adhere to the Green Highways (Plantation, Transplantation, Beautification and Maintenance) Policy, 2015 in true spirit and substance.
"The NHAI has planted around 1 crore trees throughout the country in the past three years even apart from the statutory requirements in order to maintain the ecology and the environmental balance," it said.
The tribunal had earlier rapped NHAI for not maintaining the mandatory green cover along national and state highways, adding that marriage lawns had come up besides the road instead of trees.
The NGT was hearing a plea filed by NGO Society for Protection of Culture, Heritage, Environment, Traditions and Promotion of National Awareness, seeking execution of the NGT's September 5, 2017 order where the NHAI had assured the tribunal that it would follow the Green Highways Policy in true spirit and substance.
The NGT disposed of the petition and asked the NGO to give specific instances of violation.
The Centre had launched the green policy to promote greening of national highway corridors across the country and promote development of eco-friendly national highway corridors with participation of farmers, private sector and government institutions including forest department.
The petition had also referred to the notifications issued by the Haryana government which said that no construction can be allowed within 30 metres on either side of national highways and 50 metres on both sides in case of bypass road and it has to be maintained as green area.
The plea said the tribunal had directed Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan to ensure plantation on government land which are adjacent to the national highway and state highways, but it has not been complied with.
In a detailed order, the NGT had directed the state governments and all local authorities to encourage plantation in public parks and other places wherever it is possible to plant additional trees to ensure better environment and provide greater protection to the ambient air quality.
The Indian road network of 33 lakh km is the second largest in the world and stretches to about 96,000 km of national highways, which constitute only 1.7 per cent of the road network but carry about 40 per cent of the total road traffic.