Centre modifies hilly road width citing India-China border link, impacts Char Dham road
The Union road ministry has increased the sanctioned width of hilly roads of national strategic importance that provide connectivity to India-China border to 7 metres. The move will impact the Char Dham road project by nearly restoring its original width which was reduced by the Supreme Court to 5.5 metres.
In a modification issued to its 2018 regulation for highways in hilly areas, the ministry said the width of the road should be 7 metre carriage way. In 2018, the ministry had reduced the width of the main carriageway of roads on hilly terrains to maximum 5.5 metres to reduce the impact on the environment due to road development. In September 2020, the SC upheld the 2018 ministry regulation.
“For roads in hilly and mountainous terrain, which act as feeder roads to the Indo-China border or are of strategic importance for national security, the carriageway width should be 7m with 1.5m paved shoulder on either side,” the highway ministry said in the new modification order issued on Tuesday. The new circular further mentions, “The standards prescribed therein have been further reviewed in the Ministry in light of the issues raised by the Ministry of Defence.”
Speaking on the new circular issued by the ministry, VS Khaira, chief engineer, regional office of MoRTH Uttarakhand and project in-charge of Char Dham road project said, “We will now be following this new circular with a carriageway width of 7m. Following these new norms, the total road width would come up to be 10m. Before the Supreme Court’s order in September, the total road width of 10m was being followed.”
He said that through the affidavit filed by the Defence ministry in the Supreme Court, the Centre was able to explain to the court the importance of the roads and “we hope that the court will allow us” to build a 10 metre wide road.
On December 2, the SC was told by the defence ministry that the court order of 5.5 meters width posed serious repercussions to the country’s defence preparedness along the border points with China and Nepal.
Both road transport and defence ministries were aggrieved by the SC’s September 8 order mandating the Char Dham road project to have a road width of 5.5 metre as recommended by five members of the 26-member high-powered committee (HPC).
Committee chairman Ravi Chopra had written to the court on October 5 and November 2 about constant tree felling by the Uttarakhand government that was causing landslides along the Char Dham route.
The defence ministry in an affidavit to the Supreme Court on the Char Dham road project had said that national highways from Rishikesh to Mana, Rishikesh to Gangotri and Tanakpur-Pithoragarh are strategic and feeder roads for India-China border. These roads are also a part of the Char Dham road project.
The court had asked HPC to examine the concerns of the two ministries and submit its report within two weeks. Next hearing on the matter is on January 18, 2021.
When asked if the new road width would be followed for the whole project, Hemant Dhyani, a member of the minority group of the HPC said, “We have discussed about the new circular issued by the MoRTH in our recent meeting, but we cannot comment anything as the matter is subjudice. The HPC would be submitting a report to the Supreme Court within a week’s time.”
The environmentalists had challenged the project in the Supreme Court. They alleged that the project was broken into 100 parts to escape a mandatory comprehensive environment review by the environment ministry’s expert appraisal committee. The government had, however, claimed that it followed all environmental norms.
The project is being developed by the Uttarakhand government’s Public Works Department (PWD), Border Roads Organisation (BRO), and National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation Ltd (NHIDCL). The road provides all-weather connectivity to four famous Hindu shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
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