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Signature Bridge hits fresh hurdles.

Govt misses deadline to obtain green nod for project

THE Delhi government, which built 85 per cent of the Signature Bridge across the Yamuna without the requisite environment clearance ( EC), has now missed a green court's deadline to obtain at least a post- facto permission. Worse, a hurried move to obtain the nod even now seems set to threaten the river system.

The National Green Tribunal ( NGT) had in February this year asked the government to apply for an EC within three weeks, and the application was to be decided by August so that remedial measures are taken to save the river and its floodplain.

Environment clearance is critical because it is granted only after an impact assessment study, making sure that precautions suggested will help check ecological degradation.

After EC is granted, the project component also has to obtain separate consents to establish and operate - further safeguards against possible environmental degradation.

Cost escalated First announced in 2004 to ease traffic on the parallel but weakening Wazirabad Bridge in north Delhi, the road bridge - modeled on the London Bridge - has missed several deadlines, escalating the cost from ` 459 crore in 2006 to ` 1,594 crore now. The latest developments would cause further delays. The fresh official deadline for completion is June 30, 2016.

The state level expert appraisal committee ( SEAC), constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests ( MoEF) for grant of ECs to projects in Delhi, has now asked the AAP government to furnish information related to land and water issues before a fresh environment impact assessment ( EIA) study for the project could be conducted.

The NGT in February had said, "We do not direct demolition in public interest. However, we want conditions to ensure that there are no adverse impacts on environment, ecology, biodiversity and environmental flow of the Yamuna and its floodplain.

We want the builder to take remedial measures." But according to experts the SEAC in its minutes dated October 5 has failed to incorporate NGT's clear directions in its terms of reference ( ToR) meant for a new EIA for the project.

Experts fear that the EIA, yet to be done would on the current ToR be most likely a run- of- themill document and would not rise to the expectations of the NGT or do justice to the river it is trying to protect.

The SEAC minutes while taking note of the transportationcum- tourism project which proposes creation of a lake within the active river channel through construction of a weir, fails to incorporate this fact into the ToR. "This is a major intrusion into the river system. And it is strange that while on one hand the NGT has expressly mentioned about the project not compromising the environmental flow in the river, the creation of a lake in active channel would do just that? The environment impact assessment ToR must be immediately revised," said Manoj Misra of NGO Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.

He said, "While ponds and lakes for tourists within the floodplain away from the river channel makes sense, the same as planned is an absolute no, no." Water expert Himanshu Thakkar said while the project is more or less a fait accompli and the EIA is now more a post facto exercise, it is a good opportunity to see how a project actually impacts the environment. "The ToR should have been tailored accordingly," Thakkar said.

"When you build a bridge, you also build bunds, embankments, restricting the river to a channel, posing threats of soil erosion in nearby areas," Misra said. A pre- construction study conducted in 2004 by DTTDC itself says 3,881 trees might need removal. "The project, on completion, will increase vehicular air pollution and air pollution. Construction itself will up air pollution," the study notes.

Flowing from north to south, the Yamuna cuts Delhi into two and the current case underlines the conflict between river protection and the need to build links to get people across.

There are eight road, rail and Metro bridges across the river connecting traffic between east and west banks. Two more Metro and road bridges are under construction.

Delhi Tourism Minister Kapil Mishra told M AIL T ODAY , "We cannot undo the wrong of the previous government. I'm doing weekly reviews of the project. It will be thrown open to public by June 30 next year." He promised that all safeguards would be put in place to check any possible environmental degradation.

The Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation ( DTTDC), builder of the project, justifies the commencement of the project without obtaining environment clearance.

"Before the work started, we had sought EC from MoEF. The response was that bridges do not require EC," said a DTTDC official.

The NGT in February said the construction of a bridge or a similar project covering a built up area of more than 1,50,000 sqm and/ or covering an area of 50 hectares ( roughly 50 football fields) would need prior EC. The Signature Bridge project area is 2,80,211 sqm.

The NGT issued its order on a petition filed by activist Vikrant Tongad who exposed that the project had been going on without prior environment clearance since 2007.

The first extension of Barapulla corridor has been delayed by one year mainly due to objections from Northern Railways.

The extension of Barapulla corridor from Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium to INA and its six loops may be opened by June 2016. The project will provide direct connectivity between Noida and South Delhi areas like INA, AIIMS and Hauz Khas.

Signal- free corridor from Vikaspuri to Wazirabad The work on 25- km long signal- free corridor has been stalled due to presence of religious structures at several locations.

The project has been delayed by over six months. It involves construction of six flyovers to make the entire Ring Road signal free. The corridor will also provide signal- free run from West Delhi to Noida and Ghaziabad via North and East Delhi.

` 530 crore ` 3,000 crore The bridge is being built as a tourist spot in collaboration with Gammon and two firms from Italy and Brazil Construction of Signature Bridge, modelled on the lines of London Bridge and announced in 2004, is running behind schedule.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Oct 15, 2015
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