Supreme Court allows widening of roads under Char Dham Project : The Tribune India

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Supreme Court allows widening of roads under Char Dham Project

The Centre had contended that the widening of the roads was important for armed forces in view of recent border stand-off with China

Supreme Court allows widening of roads under Char Dham Project

File photo of the Supreme Court.

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 14

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed construction of all-weather 10-meter wide road under the Char Dham Road Project in Uttarakhand in view of its strategic importance for armed forces and the recent developments on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

A Bench ld by Justice D Y Chandrachud -- which had on November 11 reserved its verdict on the issue -- said it has struck a delicate balance between requirement of widening strategic roads crucial to national security and deep-rooted sustainable development principle crucial to environment.

Some of the roads under the Char Dham road expansion i.e. double lane paved shoulder (DLPS) -- are strategic feeder roads leading to India-China border.

Noting that recent past has thrown up serious challenges to national security along the borders, the Bench said, "This court can't second-guess infrastructural needs of armed forces."

The Bench -- which had wondered if environmental concerns can override national security -- modified its September 8, 2020 order that restricted the width of Chardham projects - Rishikesh to Mana; Rishikesh to Gangotri and Rishikesh to Pithoragarh. It allowed the three strategic roads to be DLPS -- crucial for the armed forces.

However, it set up an oversight committee headed by Justice (Retd) AK Sikri to report to court on the project. The panel has been asked to ensure that all remedial measures are taken in the interest of environment and recommendations of the high power committee are implemented while widening the roads under the project. It clarified that the panel will not do any fresh environmental assessment of the project.

The project has been in the news following clashes between Indian and Chinese armed forces on the LAC last year. It is meant to connect the four holiest places in Uttarakhand through 900-km all-weather roads and the Centre has contended that it will facilitate rapid deployment/movement of Armed Forces along India-China border.

Citing environmental concerns, petitioner Citizens for Green Doon – an NGO -- had challenged the widening of roads in the eco-sensitive Himalayan area.

However, highlighting the Chinese military build-up on the other side of the LAC, Attorney General KK Venugopal had said the court should allow widening of the road that would serve as feeder roads for the border roads.

"The army will have to take Brahmos, which is 42-feet long in case of a confrontation. How do we go if the roads are not wide enough?" Venugopal had submitted.

In view of a 2018 notification mandating a 5.5 meter limit for road width in hilly terrains, the Supreme Court had in September 2020 asked the government to comply with it in the Char Dham project. However, the Government amended the notification in December 2020 and sought the top court’s permission to construct 10 meter wide roads.

“All development has to be sustainable…But sustainable development has to be balanced with defence of the nation. We can’t deny the fact…We are really in a terrain and altitude where the defence of the nation is extremely important. Can we, therefore, say we will override the concerns of the armed forces or the defence?” it had said on November 9.

While hearing the NGO's PIL challenging the Stage-I forest clearance and wildlife clearance granted for the improvement/expansion of roads under Char Dham Project, resulting in felling of trees in Dehradun, Justice Chandrachud had earlier underlined the limitations of judicial activism in such cases.

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