NGT Orders NHAI To Transfer Rs 23.40 Crore For Tree Plantation Initiatives In Pune, Ahmednagar, Nashik Districts

National Green Tribunal NGT
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Pune, 17th February 2024: The National Green Tribunal (Western Zone) has issued a directive to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to transfer Rs 23.40 crore to the state forest department’s account. These funds are earmarked for tree plantation initiatives in Pune, Ahmednagar (Sangamner), and Nashik districts.

The directive comes in response to a petition filed by Pune-based social activist Ganesh Suresh Borhade, represented by lawyer Rahul Chaudhary. The petition raised concerns about the alleged indiscriminate felling of trees by the NHAI along a stretch of Pune-Nashik National Highway (NH 50) without fulfilling the obligation of tree plantation.

The NGT coram bench, consisting of Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh and expert member Dr Vijay Kulkarni, issued the directive. The petition named the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) of the forest department, state environment department, and NHAI as respondents. Borhade emphasized in his plea that NHAI should plant a minimum of 10 trees for each tree felled during the Pune Nashik highway construction.

Additionally, the petitioner sought directives for the completion of rainwater harvesting infrastructure as per environmental clearance conditions. The petition also requested NHAI to compensate for environmental damage due to non-plantation of trees and urged the forest department to carry out tree plantation for compensatory afforestation.

Borhade alleged that NHAI, responsible for the four-lane Khed-Sinnar stretch on NH-50 in 2014-15, unlawfully felled 2,373 trees of 29 different species during the project. He claimed NHAI failed to fulfill its commitment to plant over 23,000 saplings as compensation.

NGT ruled that NHAI must deposit Rs 10.90 crore for Pune district, Rs 8.96 crore for Ahmednagar (Sangamner) district, and Rs 3.54 crore for Nashik district within one month from the date of the order. The specified amount is to be deposited in the forest department’s account under the name ‘MAH EKATMIK PADIK JAMEEN VIKAS YANTRANA.’

The NGT also directed the forest department to provide precise specifications and sketches for underpasses at five designated locations to facilitate safe wildlife movement. NHAI, expressing readiness to cover the associated expenses, awaits the department’s specifications.

On the matter of rainwater harvesting, NHAI argued impracticality due to the shallow water level, proposing a bore well survey for suitable locations. NHAI is expected to submit an affidavit confirming compliance or a timeline for completion before the next hearing on April 10.