Char Dham Project: The fragility of the Himalayas
The Supreme Court (SC) has spoken of the need to balance national security concerns with environmental issues in the context of the Army’s request to expand the Char Dham Project (CDP) roads leading to the Indo-China border, in the context of construction being carried out by China across the border. The court is considering two applications moved by the ministry of defence and the ministry of road transport and highways to increase the width of three hill roads in Uttarakhand to a double-lane carriageway with a width of seven metres each. The Centre’s application has been opposed by the petitioner, Citizens for Green Doon, citing environmental concerns that have made the 889km-long CDP, linking the four prominent Hindu pilgrimage sites of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri — a contentious one.
Balance is important but the natural fragility of the Himalayan region cannot be discounted. This was noticeable this monsoon season in Uttarakhand when many roads were destroyed due to landslides. The roads that the government wants to expand — Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri, and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh — all witnessed landslides.
Any decision on development projects in the Himalayas or the equally fragile Western Ghats must consider the threat of the climate crisis. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns that there will be a rise in patchy but intense rainfall events. The 2011 Madhav Gadgil report on the Western Ghats warned that the development pattern in the Ghats would lead to landslides. The floods and landslides in Kerala have proved him right. Any debate on balance should factor these in.