The order also states that the present bench has not dealt with the merits of the case. It further directs that in case there is a fresh application for forest diversion which is granted approval both by the MoEFCC and the state government, it can be challenged before the NGT. Since the entire case is not disposed off, any such challenge will be tagged with the present application, which has been transferred to them from the SC.

While the project proponents might be relieved given that they can now initiate an application for forest diversion, the orders of the NGT do not necessarily imply a complete green signal for the Hubli-Ankola railway line which is the impression created by media reports.

The history of various institutional observations, reports of the forest department, CEC and expert bodies which confirm ecological fragility and irreparable damage, will come into play even when the matter is being considered by all agencies again and if approved, in the court as well. The railway line continues to draw its justification for exporting the ore from Bellary-Hospet region, which according to the CEC report still remain in uncertain.

However, the question remains whether the SC or the NGT, based on the CEC’s recommendations, could direct the ministry not to consider the proposal for forest diversion. Is this legally tenable? This is surely going to open up important debates if conversations are initiated, whether at a chai shop, conference room or even back in court.

For now, the developments around this railway line, and all that is associated with it (Eg. mining in Bellary-Hospet as well as the Tadri port), will certainly be something to watch out for.