Centre justifies Char Dham highway widening in SC

New Delhi: The Centre on Thursday cited the width of defence equipment that will be required to be moved to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) border with China to justify the widening of the nearly 900-km Char Dham highway through the fragile Himalayan ranges, as the Supreme Court reserved its verdict on a challenge to the decision to widen the road from the earlier approved 5.5 meters to 10 meters.

As the Centre listed a number of military equipment that will be required
to be transported through the widened highway to the LAC, petitioner NGO “Citizens for Green Doon”, referring to the fragility of Himalayan ranges all along the Char Dham highway, told the bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachid, Surya Kant and Vikram Nath that the “Army’s needs can only be met if the roads you build are safe for the Army”, noting that the roads will be prone to the massive landslides that take place all along the 900-km highway route.

Justifying the decision to order widening of the Char Dham roads from existing 5.5 meters to 10 meters, attorney-general K.K. Venugopal listed a number of heavy Army equipment, including the width of the  vehicle, needed to transport the BrahMos medium-range supersonic cruise missile to  the LAC.

Hammering on the wider road infrastructure requirements of the armed
forces for the movement of arms and equipment to the LAC, the A-G said the armed forces must be provided with all the “technical, physical and financial support”.

The A-G said the report of the High-Powered Committee can’t be cited against the road widening project as it was in a different context and environment. He pointed to the different stretches of the roads that have already been constructed, indicating that a lot of the road-widening work n different stretches has been done.

Urging the court to ensure the Char Dham road widening is halted now, senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner NGO, said what was required was the restoration of the Char Dham area as existed three decades back, which attracted saints and seers to these mountains in the past.

He referred to a letter written by former President Pranab Mukherjee in 2010 pointing to the eco-sensitive nature of the Char Dham area, which eventually led to a halt in development activities, including construction of hydro-electric projects in the area.

Calling the roads under construction “heating rods” that will eventually destroy the Himalayas and its fragile ecosystem, Mr Gonsalves said the Himalayas were in themselves a defence shield and the road-widening project “should not be continued for a day more” as it will increase the temperature by one degree Celsius and have serious repercussions on the availability of water. He said the Himalayas simply can’t tolerate such mega projects of double-lane highways.

On what should be done to mitigate the damage already done to the Himalayas, Mr Gonsalves told the court the steps that were ordered by the National Green Tribunal in 2018 should be implemented.



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