The High Court of Karnataka on Wednesday declared that there was no need for the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to take prior environmental clearance for widening of national highway-4A from Belagavi in Karnataka to Goa border.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice S Vishwajith Shetty passed the order while disposing of a PIL filed by environmentalist Suresh Heblikar and two others, in 2019.
The Karnataka High Court on Wednesday said that no material has been placed before it to show that stretches of National Highway-4A have been artificially divided to reduce its length below 100 km, to take up expansion work, with a view to avoid obtaining prior environmental clearance under the Environment (Protection) Act.
The court, however, said the work of widening can be continued only after the Union government extends the validity of its in-principle approval granted earlier under the Forest Conservation Act or grants a fresh approval as the validity of the approval expired on December 31, 2020. Also, the court held that no material has been placed before it to establish that stretches of NH-4A in Karnataka and Goa have been “artificially divided” to bring length of the highway below 100 km to avoid obtaining of prior environmental clearances under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Giving liberty to the petitioners to approach the Union Government with a representation seeking measures to avoid or minimise the adverse impact of the project on the environment, the HC asked the government to examine whether the project attracts certain restrictions imposed under the Environment Protection Act and take action under the Biological Diversity Act.
The NHAI had told the court that it had not “artificially” divided the project of widening NH-4A as proposal to widen the highway’s stretch in Goa was only at the project report stage where as 70% of the work of widening the highway from Belagavi in Karnataka to Goa border had been already completed.The NHAI had in 2019 told the court that it was not widening the 13.32 km stretch of NH-4A passing through Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary.