In an interview to CNBC-TV18, RP Singh, chairman, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) gives his views on the road developer projects in the country.
Among the many problems faced by developers including delay in clearances, Singh says the lack of equity is the biggest. "Traffic has come down and there have been some cases where the viability of the project to some extent is affected," he adds.
Singh says that NHAI has asked the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to keep them in a loop on clearances of various projects.
He says there is no tussle between MoEF and NHAI. "Basically, we have been requesting them to take a clarification from the Supreme Court (SC) if required. Our stand has been that Lafarge judgement doesn’t come in the way of environment clearance or forest clearance as NHAI projects are concerned because Lafarge judgement was given in a different context. So most likely, they are veering around our view," he says.
Below is the edited transcript of Singh's interview to CNBC-TV18.
Q: In the latest in the resolution of the tussle between National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), are you able to extract any kind of assurance from the MoEF that they will not link environment clearance to forest clearance?
A: There is no tussle between MoEF and NHAI. Basically, we have been requesting them to take a clarification from the Supreme Court (SC) if required. Our stand has been that Lafarge judgement doesn’t come in the way of environment clearance or forest clearance as NHAI projects are concerned because Lafarge judgement was given in a different context. So most likely, they are veering around our view. In that case, there is no cause of action just for us and if we get a relief from the department itself, we will not like to pursue the court case.
Q: Even if that assurance were forthcoming, that environment clearance will be given before forest clearance in certain cases, are you sure that developers will be satisfied with just that? There are a whole host of clearances and forest clearances included which have been delayed and not come even after the 120 days grace period that they have. That is the situation almost half of the projects are already in grace period and have not got clearances, will that prevent people from walking out?
A: The only problem with most of these cases is the environment clearance. Now that the delinkage has been agreed in principle, I think environment clearance will be issued immediately.
Once that is done, that is the end of the whole issue. The basic problem however, that they are facing is the lack of equity and the cost escalation which has taken place. Traffic has come down and there have been some cases where the viability of the project to some extent is affected. So these are issues which certainly may be in the mind of some of the people but we cannot be held responsible for not completing our part of the job.
Q: You are confirming that the government has in-principle approved the dilution of the forest rights act and once there is a formal notification, your problem in the near-term at least will be solved?
A: As far as forest rights act is concerned, the legal opinion has already come and now environment ministry seems to be veering around our view. They feel that as far as the protected forests which we have developed on the roadside, there are no traditional dwellers in those areas. Therefore, the question of applying foreign rights act to those areas does not arise. Once this clarification comes, that is the end of the whole dispute.
Q: What do you exactly mean by them veering around to your view, will they go back to the court to ask a clarification or are they convinced by your position that the Lafarge argument does not apply here?
A: This is an act, which the Tribal Welfare Ministry was supposed to be enforcing and based on their request, the MoEF has issued a notification. So now that they have accepted our contention and now since everybody is onboard, I think this matter should get resolved in the next few days.
Q: So they will withdraw the notification?
A: They will clarify it, that this forest rights act shall not apply in the protected forest which we have raised.
Q: You expect it in a week; you expect it in a couple of weeks?
A: We expect it any moment; it should come as early as next two-three days.