NGO says Char Dham road project lacks environmental clearance, urges NGT to suspend work
A non-government organisation (NGO) urged the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday for the suspension of the all-weather Char Dham road project in the absence environmental clearances.
The Rs 12,000-crore project, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aims to provide better road connectivity to the four shrines in Uttarakhand -- Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
Advocates of the Dehradun-based NGO, Citizens for Green Doon (CFGD), submitted an affidavit before NGT, saying the project has been “mischievously divided” into segments to avoid taking green clearance under the environment impact assessment (EIA) notification, 2006.
The NGT bench consisted of acting chairperson justice Jawad Rahim, justice Raghuvendra Singh Rathore and an expert. The final argument in the case is scheduled on May 3.
The ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) submitted an affidavit before the tribunal on March 20, claiming that no environment clearance (EC) or EIA is needed for the project. The affidavit mentioned that a high-level committee, constituted by MoEFCC in 2012, has recommended that national highway-widening projects up to 100km do not need EIA.
The project is, however, divided into parts with less than 100km to obviate the need for EC and EIA. “The project has been cleverly drafted to avoid taking any clearances. We have demanded that the project be suspended unless EC and EIA are taken,” said Aagney Sail, a lawyer of the NGO.
In its affidavit, the MoEFCC has stated, “The committee so constituted had recommended that expansion of national highway projects up to 100 km, involving additional right of way or land acquisition up to 40 metres on existing alignment and 60 metres on re-alignments or by-passes, may be exempted from the preview of the notification.”
It further stated, “In view of the said recommendation, the government of India exempted expansion projects of national highways greater than 100 kms, involving additional right of way or land acquisition greater than 40 metres on existing alignments and 60 metres on re-alignments or by-passes, from the requirement of environmental impact assessment vide notification dated 22.8.2013.”
The tribunal had stayed tree cutting for the project last month. But the ruling didn’t stop construction work along nearly 900-km route.
The advocates also said the muck, generated from road construction and dumped along the route, flows into rivers, which could lead to a disaster similar to the 2013 Kedarnath tragedy.
“The muck is flowing into the rivers and will collect. Once the region receives heavy rainfall, we might have to face similar catastrophe like that in 2013 due to floods,” said Sanjay Parikh, a senior advocate of the NGO.