The Supreme Court on Tuesday reconstituted an expert panel formed by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to oversee the compensatory afforestation along with other mitigation measures for the Delhi-Dehradun Expressway.
A bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that C.P. Goyal, Director-General of Forests in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, will be the chairperson of the expert committee.
It will also include Anil Prakash Joshi, founder of Himalayan Environmental Studies and Conservation Organisation (HESCO), and environmentalist Vijay Dhasmana as additional members.
The apex court’s ruling came on a plea filed by an NGO — Citizens for Green Doon — challenging the NGT order, which paved the way for Delhi-Dehradun Expressway construction, after the constitution of an expert panel.
The NGT had directed the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand to head the expert panel. The bench clarified that its direction should not be seen as an expression of lack of confidence on the part of the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary.
The top court added that the committee’s reorganisation was only to ensure that broad understanding is enabled in the implementation process.
The NGO, represented by advocate Ritwik Dutta, contended that the panel comprised Central and state government officials, and there was no independent person on the panel.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, representing the Centre, and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing NHAI, agreed that independent members could be added to the panel.
The NGO alleged that there was also conflict of interest on the part of the Wildlife Board of India, and suggested the names of independent members on the committee, which was sought by the apex court.
The NGO suggested the names of Bibhash Pandav, faculty of the Wildlife Institute of India, Vijay Dhasmana and M.K. Singh.
The AG objected to Pandav’s name saying he is junior to the Director of Wildlife Institute of India and suggested the name of Joshi, a Padma Bhushan awardee.
The bench disposed of the appeal while leaving the question of law open.
On April 8, the top court had told the NGO that it can raise its grievances before an expert committee.
The NGT gave go-ahead to the Delhi-Dehradun Economic Corridor Expressway, which is expected to reduce travel time by four hours.