Ganga Expressway Gets Green Nod 12 Years After Environmental Clearance Obtained By Mayawati Government Was Quashed By Allahabad HC
The petitioners in the case against the project had argued that the construction of the expressway along the Ganga "shall increase pollution level of the river to such an extent that river Ganga shall turn into a big Nala."
Under the revised project, the alignment of the expressway has been shifted away from the bank of the Ganga to address environment-related concerns.
Uttar Pradesh's 594-kilometre-long Ganga Expressway, for which the Yogi Adityanath government is currently acquiring land, has received clearance from the state-level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority.
The environmental clearance for the project comes nearly 12 years after the permission obtained for the project by the Mayawati-led government in 2007 was cancelled by the Allahabad High Court in 2009.
After the project received clearance from the Environmental Impact Assessment Authority in 2007, Ganga Mahasabha and Vindhya Environmental Society had filed two separate petitions in the Allahabad High Court against the environmental approval. The petitioners had argued that the construction of the expressway along the Ganga "shall increase pollution level of the river to such an extent that river Ganga shall turn into a big Nala."
"The express way being constructed at the height of more than 7-8 metres, during rains there shall be back flow in the sewer as well as in the Nalas and tributaries that will result in flood engulfing most of the areas of the cities and chocking the sewer lines," one of the petitioners argued.
Scientific reasons against the project, mentioned in Professor U.K. Chaudhary of the Civil Engineering Department of Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi in a letter written to the then Chief Minister Mayawati, were also cited in the case.
Under the plan proposed by the Mayawati government, the Ganga Expressway was to come up on the top of a marginal embankment, which was to be built by the Irrigation Department along the left bank of the river between Narora in western Uttar Pradesh and Varanasi in the east.
"The height of the expressway (7-8m) and its distance (1-1.5 Km.) indicate that there will be around 30 concave banks and thirty convex banks along with the expressway. The stable convex bank will intensify the sedimentation. Hence, the flood problem will be more acute," Professor Chaudhary had argued in his 12-point letter to then Chief Minister Mayawati.
The petitioners had also argued that the state government and the Environmental Impact Assessment Authority had not followed the due process in granting clearance to the Ganga Expressway project. It was said that the environmental approval to the project was granted in breach of the statutory regulations dated 14 September, 2006.
The state government had argued that the "marginal embankment shall protect large area of fertile land from flood" and stated that the "letter was also written to the Ganga Flood Control Commission, Patna, on 19 August, 2007 for obtaining clearance for marginal embankment who...has approved the embankment project and directed for obtaining clearance from Ministry of Surface and Transport of expressway."
However, in its order dated 29 May 2009, the Allahabad High Court quashed the order of the state-level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority granting clearance to the Ganga Expressway project.
"The conclusion is that in the entire process of obtaining environmental clearance, there has been flagrant violation of statutory provisions of Environment Clearance Regulation 2006...authorities have violated the statutory provisions and have shown scant respect to law. They all have acted in arbitrary manner in undue haste to grant clearance without addressing serious environmental issues," the court said.
While the Akhilesh Yadav-led government, which took office in 2012, mooted the idea of reviving the project with some revisions, it did not take off as the regime shifted focus towards the 302-kilometre-long Agra-Lucknow expressway, which passes through areas like Mainpuri, Etawah and Kannauj, strongholds of the Samajwadi Party.
The Yogi Adityanath government revived the Ganga Expressway project in 2019 with a new alignment. Under the revised project, the alignment of the expressway has been shifted away from the bank of the Ganga to address environment-related concerns.
"Earlier, the Ganga Expressway was conceptualised on the banks of the Ganga. The Ganga is a national river and there is a Ganga Authority. All clearances for the Ganga Expressway require clearances from the National Ganga Authority. That was not taken [when the project was planned earlier]. So the High Court, sometime in 2008 or 2009, stayed the project saying the government needs to have the requisite environment clearance, which had not been taken," Awanish Awasthi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Uttar Pradesh Expressways Industrial Development Authority (UPEIDA), told Swarajya in December last year.
"Now, what we at UPEIDA have done is move the road away from the bank of the river because any eco sensitive zone will require a lot of approvals which we have avoided. We have kept the road at a safe distance from the river bank, and we have tried to bring the road closer to the district headquarters. This is a better model, we think. If the road is closer to the district headquarters, it will make connectivity better," Awasthi added.
The state government has acquired around 94 per cent of the land needed for the Ganga Expressway, UPEIDA officials say.
"In record time, despite the second wave of Covid-19, we have completed 94 per cent of land acquisition. The tendering process is going on and, in the second week of December probably, the Prime Minister may lay the foundation stone for the expressway project," Durgesh Upadhyay, media advisor to UPEIDA, told Swarajya last week.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will lay the foundation stone for the Ganga Expressway project sometime in December this year.
The six-lane Ganga Expressway will link Meerut to Varanasi, passing through Hapur, Bulandshahar, Amroha, Sambhal, Badaun, Shahjahanpur, Hardoi, Unnao, Rai Bareli and Pratapgarh districts.
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