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'We Hope Officers Will Show Sensitivity Towards Environmental Laws' : Karnataka HC Allows NHAI To Withdraw Objectionable Affidavit On Costs

Mustafa Plumber
16 Feb 2021 11:37 AM GMT
We Hope Officers Will Show Sensitivity Towards Environmental Laws : Karnataka HC Allows NHAI To Withdraw Objectionable Affidavit On Costs
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The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on Tuesday informed the Karnataka High Court that it has donated Rs 2.5 lakhs each to two organisations based in Dehradun and working in the field of Environmental as costs for filing a controversial affidavit saying that the Environment Protection Act was enacted at the instance of foreign powers. A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay...

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The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on Tuesday informed the Karnataka High Court that it has donated Rs 2.5 lakhs each to two organisations based in Dehradun and working in the field of Environmental as costs for filing a controversial affidavit saying that the Environment Protection Act was enacted at the instance of foreign powers.

A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice Sachin Shankar Magadum accepted the compliance report filed by the authority and accordingly allowed withdrawal of the objectionable affidavit filed by it on January 4.

The bench said:

"Perused the affidavit on record and orders passed by this court from time to time. Letter dated Feb 15, issued by NHAI to advocate is taken on record along with documents annexed to it, which shows that donations as recorded in order dated Feb 9, is made by NHAI. Considering the affidavits filed on record by NHAI and by accepting the apology tendered by NHAI, we permit the said authority to withdraw the statement of objections filed on record. This order means that the statement of objection filed on record will not be treated as a statement of objections of NHAI. However, the same shall remain on record."

It added "We hope and trust that considering what has transpired, officers of NHAI will show sensitivity to laws relating to the environment. Accordingly, application is allowed and a fresh statement of objections shall be filed within a period of one month from today."

The court had on the previous hearing suggested to the Authority to donate a substantial amount to any organisation working in the field of Environment, for it to consider the application made by the authority seeking to withdraw the objectionable affidavit filed by it earlier.

Senior Advocate Uday Holla, appearing for the authority, had informed the court that it was willing to donate an amount of Rs 5 lakh and had shortlisted two organisations for the same. He added that the two organizations were the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education and Research and the Wildlife Institute of India. He requested the court to suggest which organisation the amount should be paid.

The court had then suggested that both organisations are government-based and therefore, credible, then proceeded to suggest donating 2.5 Lakhs each, to both of the organizations. Following the payment of the donation, the Court would consider allowing the withdrawal of the affidavit filed by NHAI.

On the previous hearing, the bench had while considering the application made by the authority seeking leave to withdraw the objectionable statement of objection filed on January 4, said:

"Notwithstanding what has happened, the prayer made by NHAI for grant of permission to withdraw the statement of objection filed on January 4 will have to be acceded to. The same will have to be subject to payment of appropriate cost. Before we pass any order regarding cost, we give the opportunity to NHAI to donate a substantial amount to any organisation which according to NHAI is doing constructive work in the field of Environment. While we say so, we are not compelling the NHAI to do so, as the court always retains power to pass appropriate orders of cost."

The NHAI had filed the objectionable affidavit while opposing the petition filed by United Conservation Movement Charitable and Welfare Trust through its advocate Prince Isac, challenging the notification dated August 22, 2013 issued by the MoEF &CC, which recommends exemption of EIA process for expansion of National Highways.

The affidavit alleged that "Whereas the decisions were taken at the United Nations conference on the Human Environment held at Stockholm in June 1972, in which India participated to take appropriate steps for the protection and improvement of the Human environment. Hence the Act has been passed not only for the protection of the environment, but also at the instance of foreign powers."

The statement also stated that many NGOs are filing PILs at the instance of 'foreign powers'. The statement read thus: "It is submitted that there are many organisations in India calling themselves as Environmental Action Groups and Human Rights Groups, such as Amnesty International etc, which are actively involved in attacking developmental projects and challenging the government policies and notifications and doing anti-national activities. There are many NGOs receiving funds from foreign sources and church funds in contraventions of laws."

After the Court took objection to the above statements, the authority sought to withdraw the affidavit saying : "NHAI is a law abiding statutory authority and has no intention to show disregard either to the Parliament or any law enacted by it and there was no intention to disregard the Honourable court as well in any manner. It is rather unfortunate that certain unwarranted and irresponsible allegations were made in the statement of objections."

Further it is said "NHAI has utmost respect and regard for the law and does not intend to hurt the rights of any litigant. It had no intention to make any reckless or insensitive remarks against any party to this petition or any third party and in specific any non government organisation.

The NHAI has expressed its deepest unconditional apology for the unwarranted and scandalous contents of the statement of objections filed before the court and assures that it will ensure fairness while filing any pleadings before the court.

The matter will be next heard on March 24.


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