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The newly formed Cabinet Committee on Investment, which is likely to meet next week, may have got its first subject — sorting out differences between the Environment Ministry and the NHAI over forest clearances for road projects. The issue discussed at the Cabinet meeting earlier on Thursday.
The debate in the meeting on an apparent mismatch in positions between different ministries was triggered by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, when he referred to media reports about NHAI filing a court case against the Environment Ministry. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promptly sought a clarification from Pulok Chatterjee, his Principal Secretary, who told the Cabinet meeting that NHAI had only sought a clarification on the Supreme Court's guidelines relating to forest clearances and had not challenged the Environment Ministry.
There was, however, no clarity at the meeting on the stand that the NHAI had taken in its affidavit filed in the court. When his views were sought, Road and Transport Minister C P Joshi argued the case for a policy framework to guide forest clearances — a template in the form of an institutionalized mechanism that would do away with the necessity to accord such clearances on a case to case basis.
Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan further told the meeting that her ministry was not opposed to road projects but it was in accordance with the Supreme Court's guidelines that such green clearances were being accorded through the Expert Appraisal Committee.
Planning Commission vice chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia suggested that an industry representative could also be made part of the EAC to enable their views also to be addressed.
The Supreme Court had formulated the guidelines in a case involving cement major Lafarge, in which it had asked the Centre to make interim arrangements for forest clearances until a national environmental regulator was set up.
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