NGT directs NHAI to pay INR 45 cr fine for violating environmental rules

Source : PTI | The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has imposed an environmental compensation of INR 45 crore on the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) for flouting several rules while constructing an infrastructure project in Haryana. The NGT was hearing a petition claiming environmental violations by the NHAI in the acquisition of land for the development of certain corridors and routes under Bharatmala Pariyojana in National Highway-148 NA (DND-Faridabad-Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway).

A bench of NGT Chairperson Justice Prakash Shrivastava said the allegations against the NHAI included the illegal diversion of the Hajipur village forest (in Gurugram district) and the illegal cutting of 441 trees, along with felling trees, near the banks of the Kiranj village pond (in Nuh district).

The bench, also comprising judicial member Justice Sudhir Agarwal and expert member A Senthil Vel, said the fourth allegation was regarding the damage to a culvert at the junction of the Sohna-Palwal highway and the new highway (NH-148 NA), while the fifth and sixth violations were regarding the encroachment of two nallahs (drains) and the pond in Kiranj.

In an order passed on February 13, the bench said, “There are five types of serious violations by the NHAI, wherein at least two violations would justify even the demolition of the construction already raised, but considering the overall aspect of the matter and the principle of sustainable development, it would be appropriate, instead of directing demolition, to determine environmental compensation and direct the NHAI to pay the same.”

It said instead of a symbolic amount, the fine for the restoration of the environment had to be “substantive and adequate”.

“Unless the compensation is more than the maximum permissible profit arising from the violations, the purpose of environmental compensation would always stand defeated,” the tribunal said.

“If we take the project cost as INR 908 crore, 5 per cent thereof comes to INR 45.4 crore and by rounding off, we make it INR 45 crore. Accordingly, we are of the view that an environmental compensation of INR 45 crore is just and appropriate to be levied upon the NHAI and it should pay the same within three months by depositing it with the Haryana State Pollution Control Board (HSPCB),” it added.

The NGT observed that a statutory body like the NHAI is not expected to proceed in the execution of its work in flagrant violation of laws, particularly regarding the matter of environment, environmental laws and environmental norms.

“When the violations are on the part of the State or a statutory body, in our view, the situation demands severest action, as much as possible and permissible, and no compassion is deserved in such matters,” it said.

“We hope and trust that the NHAI, in the future, shall take care in observance of the requirement of laws, particularly environmental laws and norms, and shall not repeat the violation thereof inviting severe civil, criminal and other action as provided in law,” the tribunal added.