SC: Centre not required to take prior environmental clearance for NH projects

New Delhi: The central government is not required to obtain prior environmental or forest clearance under the laws before declaring a stretch as national highway (NH) and expressing its intention to acquire the land for building, maintenance or operating such roads, the Supreme Court held on Tuesday.

This significant observation was made by the top court in its judgement upholding the notification for acquisition of land for the Rs 10,000-crore Chennai-Salem eight-lane green corridor project. A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar, B R Gavai and Krishna Murari dealt with relevant provisions of the National Highways Act, 1956, the NHs Rules, 1957 and the National Highway Authority of India Act, 1988 while examining the Madras High Court's decision that a prior environmental clearance was needed for the project.

The HC verdict on April 8, 2019 had held as illegal and bad in law the notifications issued under Section 3A(1) of the NHs Act for acquisition of specified lands for construction of the new highway which was part of

the larger 'Bharatmala Pariyojna Phase I5' project.

Justice Khanwilkar, in the 140-judgement, said: There is nothing in the 1956 Act, which impels the Government to obtain prior environment clearance before exercise of that power and in issuing notification.

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