Greens raise doubt over NH7 wildlife underpass height

Vijay Pinjarkar, Times News Network March 23 2018

Link to the news article

Justice Bhushan Gavai at the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court on Thursday said orders on mitigation measures on NH7 between Mansar and Khawasa need to be scrupulously followed and if any variance is found, he will ask for demolition of structures.

The matter came up for hearing on Thursday on a PIL after amicus curiae Nikhil Padhye raised the issue whether the height of underpasses was as per the court’s order at a height of minimum 5 metres from ground level. The high court heard the matter related to construction of mitigation measures along NH7 stretch from Mansar to Khawasa on March 14, 21, and 22. On March 31, 2016, the court had directed to ensure 5-metre height of underpasses.

After amicus curiae statement, the forest department had ordered the Nagpur chief conservator of forests (CCF) Sanjeev Gaur to personally inspect the site on March 17 and submit an affidavit before the court on March 21. The forest department failed to submit the affidavit on March 21 and hence a hearing was fixed for March 22.

On March 22, the forest department affidavit was discussed and taken on record by the court. NHAI and forest department submitted that the reduced height that they observed was due to construction debris that they promised would be cleared by July 2018 which is the expected date of completion of the project.

However, wildlife conservationists said the forest department affidavit was nothing but a copy of a letter submitted by NHAI to the forest department before the site visit. NHAI had claimed that “even at present there is ample space for animals to cross underpasses” which was also copy-pasted by the forest department. Conservationists asked how animals are expected to cross during the construction phase and questioned the claim of forest department.

“The minimum height has to be five metres from ground level,” said Milind Pariwakam, an ecologist, who said if the same was not done properly the mitigation structures would not be effective and “will be a monumental waste of public money.”

NHAI was represented by its counsels Aneesh Kathane and Ajay Ghare while NGO Srushti was represented by CS Kaptan and NGO Conservation Action Trust (CAT) by Sudhir Puranik.

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