Highway to the border: Defence forces must be empowered to secure frontiers - The Tribune India

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Highway to the border

Defence forces must be empowered to secure frontiers

Highway to the border

A negotiated settlement to the border row is imperative, but until that happens, the defence forces must be empowered to our best abilities — landslides or no landslides. File photo



The Char Dham Highway project presents very difficult options before the nation, pitting national security against ecological sustainability in the Himalayas, the youngest and most volatile mountain range in the world. When the 900-km project was launched in 2016, the stated purpose was to provide all-weather connectivity to the religiously important towns of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath in Uttarakhand. The budget of the project was pegged at Rs 12,000 crore, but environmentalists contend that the cost to the delicate ecology of the region would be very significant: Felling of trees, blasting of the hills and dumping of excavated material would make the hills highly unstable and vulnerable to landslides. Thus, they argue, the width of the roads should be kept at a minimum, so that the impact on the ecology could be minimised. In September last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the highway roads should be 5.5 metres wide, complying with a circular by the Roads and Highways Ministry, released in 2018.

This order came not long after the bloody clash at Galwan with the Chinese army, and this altered the scenario. The Highways Ministry, noting that certain roads are of strategic importance because of national security, or because they are feeder roads to the Indo-China border, amended the circular in December — it increased the recommended width of such roads from 5.5 metres to 7 metres, ‘with 1.5m paved shoulder on either side’. This followed a request from the Defence Ministry, which demanded wider roads leading up to the northern border with China.

During the hearing of the case, the Supreme Court has underlined the need to balance concerns over defence and the environment. The NGO that has been fighting the case, Citizens for Green Doon, insists that the ‘best defence for our country is the mountains’. However, with a belligerent neighbour determined to alter the LAC and building infrastructure all along it on its own side, this notion seems naive in the extreme. The Indian government insists that to match the Chinese combat capabilities, they must transport their most effective arsenal to the border areas — and for this, broader roads are needed. A negotiated settlement to the border row is imperative, but until that happens, the defence forces must be empowered to our best abilities — landslides or no landslides.


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