In what is being seen as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s move to woo voters ahead of the 2017 assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Uttarakhand in February to lay the foundation stone of a network of all-weather roads for the Chardham.
The religious circuit bore the brunt of the flashfloods that hit the Himalayan state in 2013 leaving thousands dead and as many homeless. Tragically, majority of those who were lost to the deluge were pilgrims.
“The proposed Rs 11,000 crore all-weather road network project for the Chardham aims to ensure an around-the-year safe journey for pilgrims visiting the religious circuit,” the newly elected state BJP president, Ajay Bhatt said. “Modiji will visit the state in February to lay the foundation stone of one of the BJP-led NDA government’s pioneering projects,” he told HT.
“It is going to be a pioneering project as it will be followed by a series of similar all-weather road network projects in other Himalayan states which are equally disaster-prone,” Bhatt said. PM Modi while laying the foundation stone of the Delhi-Meerut Expressway project on December 31 had announced that the foundation stone of a network of all-weather roads meant for the Chardham would soon be laid.
Bhatt said Union surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari would also be present at the foundation laying ceremony. “Gadkariji agreed to our request that the foundation laying ceremony for the all-weather road project be held in February during our meeting with him in Delhi on Thursday,” the state BJP chief said adding, he also accepted our request that Prime Minister “inaugurate” the ceremony.
“It (ceremony) will be held most likely in Haridwar as it is the gateway to the Chardham. In case of a heavy crowd in the temple town owing to the ongoing Ardhkumbh fair the ceremony could also be held here,” he said.
Bhatt claimed that the all-weather road network to be developed in the landslide-prone mountainous Chardham region would be completely failsafe. “It will be built in a way that pilgrims would be able to travel to Chardham even during the rainy season when a visit to the landslide-prone high altitude mountainous region is risky,” he said referring to the four fabled shrines of Gangotri, Yamnotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
“By all means, it will be possible as state-of-the-art technology will be employed to implement it,” Bhatt said when asked if setting up an all-weather road network would be feasible in the geologically sensitive region.
Analysts and geological experts though do not buy the argument. “They (Modi government) are launching the project ahead of the next (assembly) polls assuming that the BJP would get votes in the name of the Chardham but the locals here are not so gullible,” said Prof L M Joshi, head of Kumaon University’s Department of English at its Nainital campus. According to him, the project would prove to be disastrous for the central Himalayan region owing to its geological sensitivity.
“I fail to understand how they would create an all-weather road network in a region where a mere widening of a road triggers a series of landslips,” said Prof YP Sundriyal of HNB Garhwal (Central) University. “It has only a political angle to it,” the geologist told HT.
The ruling Congress dubbed the Chardham project as a poll stunt. “The BJP played a similar gimmick before the Bihar assembly elections but failed…They are trying to play the same poll stunt here and they will fail again,” Surendra Kumar, chief minister Harish Rawat’s media in-charge said.