By A Special Correspondent
First publised on 2023-02-13 08:01:26
It is welcome that the green bench of the Supreme Court has now changed its inflexible approach of denying permission for developmental projects if they were in conflict with environmental protection. The bench cleared more than 118 stalled projects, some of them for more than 5 years, in a rush of orders last week. The court argued that while protecting the ecology and environment for future generations is of utmost importance, so is the fact that people living in remote areas benefit from development of infrastructure and accidents are prevented by building bridges.
The development and environment concerns debate is very old and has now been escalated to a point where each and every project faces problem. While there is no denying that the state sometimes overrides all environmental concerns to bulldoze projects and needs to be stopped, the fact is that in many other projects, small concerns that can be addressed locally are sought to be magnified unnecessarily to delay projects.
As the Supreme Court said, delaying projects escalates their cost and states have to approach the apex court for even small and trivial matters. The court categorically said that projects which are not only necessary for development but also for the safety of the citizens cannot be stalled. In changing its inflexible stance, the court was mainly guided by making fruits of development available to all citizens, especially those living in remote areas and also making the lives of citizens safer. But it also said that no such work can be carried out in forest areas falling within national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
While this approach of the apex court cannot be faulted, there are issues of concern that need to be looked into. For instance, the extraordinary situation developing due to the unhindered construction activities in hilly areas or areas prone to subsidence, as being witnessed now in Uttrakhand, needs to be addressed. In the name of development, a free licence cannot be given to all and sundry to play havoc with the ecosystem. Also, state governments sometimes hide the real facts when notifying a project (for instance the exact number of trees they will fell) and often increase the scope of the project later (after getting environmental clearance) to cause more damage to the environment. Further, if the government builds roads in remote places, private players start construction activities on both sides to further damage the area. Then there is the issue of efficient removal of debris from such projects.These things have to kept in mind before batting for development over environmental concerns.