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The National Green Tribunal Friday slammed NHAI for showing indifference towards environment protection and said that green cover on both sides of highways is essential to mitigate vehicular pollution’s adverse impact.

The NHAI stand that roads are constructed by Concessioners and it is their responsibility to comply with law is patently untenable and shows indifference and breach of public trust and statutory duties, NGT said.

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“If the NHAI in the course of its activities hires its agents, the liability of the principal does not end. The Criminal and Civil liability of NHAI and its highest officers under the Environmental Law to be prosecuted and required to pay compensation continues. Such inalienable duty cannot be abandoned on the specious plea that a contractor is being hired.

“Moreover, being public authorities, taking such plea shows lack of responsibility or lack of knowledge of law. Indifference to issues of environment affecting public health by a public authority can hardly be appreciated,” a bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel said.

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The NGT said the NHAI and the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL) have to be the role model to ensure compliance of environmental norms.

“Same is expected from the State PWD and other concerned Authorities. There has to be continuous meaningful and responsible monitoring at the highest levels. It is not a charity but a Constitutional mandate.

“The record shows that on every occasion the matter has been taken up, the tribunal has regretfully found lack of involvement of the concerned authorities on the subject. We are stating so with a hope that the authorities realise their responsibility in the matter and coercive measures are avoided against erring officers,” the bench said.

The tribunal said it expects the highest in the organisations to look into these aspects to ensure a change of attitude and counselling and directed the NHAI and the NHIDCL to develop appropriate mechanism for compliance of the law.

It further directed that while granting environmental clearance, the MoEF must ensure that an effective monitoring mechanism exists to ensure compliance of requisite safeguards including the plantations on the roadsides and keeping such roadsides free from encroachments up to specified distance.

NHAI and NHIDCL must give an undertaking of responsible level officers to take ownership of maintaining environmental norms instead of taking a plea that it was not their basic responsibility and responsibility was of the contractor, it said.

The observations came after perusing an affidavit filed by NHIDCL giving the status of encroachments and plantations without mentioning the action plan to take remedial action against acknowledged illegal encroachments and steps to strengthen the monitoring mechanism.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by NGO Society for Protection of Culture, Heritage, Environment, Traditions and Promotion of National Awareness seeking execution of the September 5, 2017 order of the NGT where the NHAI had assured the tribunal that it would follow the Green Highways (Plantation, Transplantation, Beautification and Maintenance) Policy, 2015 in true spirit and substance.

The plea said that the tribunal had directed the Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan to ensure plantation on government land which are adjacent to the national highway and state highways. Still, no action has been taken by them.

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 prevailing in that area.

“The state governments and all local authorities shall also issue directions to all group housing societies, commercial plots and land that is allotted by the state government for any office, residential block, that they would plant trees along their boundaries and raise green belts around buildings,” the tribunal had said.

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