NHAI, environment ministry spar over GMR project termination

The termination of a highway project by GMR Infrastructure has snowballed into a war of words between the National Highways Authority (NHAI) and the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF).

The NHAI has alleged it is facing a number of claims from concessionaires due to project delays caused by the ministry's practices.

According to a CNBC-TV18 report quoting sources, the NHAI is even planning to move the Supreme Court this week to delink forest clearance and environment clearance norms. A lack of clear demarcation of these norms is resulting in the delays, according to media reports.

The NHAI has alleged it is facing a number of claims from concessionaires due to project delays caused by the ministry's practices.

The ministry gives environment clearance only after forest clearance is obtained.

The MoEF has, however, denied the allegations and put the onus for the GMR project cancellation squarely on NHAI, said another report on CNBC-TV18.

GMR yesterday terminated its contract with NHAI to six lane the 555 km Kishangarh-Udaipur-Ahmedabad highway as the project had not received the MoEF's clearance on time.

The project is estimated to have required an investment of Rs 5,387 crore. The Bangalore-based group had won the project in Western India through international competitive bidding at Rs 636 crore annual premium for 26 years.

According to GMR, the clearance was supposed to be in place within one year of winning the contract.

According to the NHAI sources, once the forest clearance and environment clearance norms are delinked contractors can start work on road projects in non-forest areas.

A panel headed by law secretary had asked the environment ministry to modify the norms governing forest clearance and environment clearance, but there has not been any move in this regard yet.

The ministry sources have, however, said the NHAI submitted an incomplete application for the project as it is yet to get all details from the Gujarat government. They have also denied getting any information about NHAI moving the Supreme Court.

The sources said the NHAI is still waiting for the details from the Gujarat government on land acquisition and environment impact. They also said the NHAI was repeatedly asked to complete the application for GMR project, but NHAI has failed to give the required data.

Earlier, Arun Bhagat, executive vice-president and group head - corporate communications, GMR Group told CNBC-TV18, that the decision to pull out of the project was well thought of and the company had waited for more than 200 days before exiting it.

As mentioned in the NHAI contact, GMR was supposed to get environmental clearance for this project within a year, he added.

He said though the company has not taken any money from banks by has incurred mobilisation expenses.

This is GMR's second exit from a project after it was forced to leave the Male Airport modernisation on opposition from the ruling party in Maldives late last year.

With inputs from PTI