Char Dham project: Sudden change in road width may lead to spurt in accidents, Centre tells SC
On September 8, the apex court had upheld the recommendation of the minority members of the High-Powered Committee and asked the implementing agencies to reduce the width of the road to 5.5m for the whole project
In the latest affidavit to the Supreme Court (SC) in the Char Dham road project over alleged new hill cutting, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has said that there has been no new hill cutting in Uttarakhand after the apex court’s September order.
In its affidavit, MoRTH also mentions that before the SC’s September 8 order, “12m formation cutting has already been carried out in 537km out of the total sanctioned length of 662km… Thus, where hill cutting has been done on the basis of 12m formation and a 10m tarred road has already been laid down or yet to be laid down, a substantial reduction in the width of the road to 5.5m in terms of the 2018 circular at this stage will result in non-uniform carriageway width varying from 10m to 5.5m in short stretches.”
“This sudden change in road width in a short road length is not desirable from road users’ safety perspectives and may lead to the formation of black spots and spurt in road accidents.” HT has a copy of the affidavit signed by Dharmananda Sarangi, additional director general, MoRTH.
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On September 8, the apex court had upheld the recommendation of the minority members of the High-Powered Committee (committee formed to assess environmental damages of Char Dham Road) and asked the implementing agencies to reduce the width of the road to 5.5m for the whole project. This order was based on a March 2018 circular released by MoRTH laying down guidelines for road construction in hilly terrains in the country.
A senior official from the regional office of MoRTH in Uttarakhand, requesting anonymity, said, “All we are trying to say is that reducing the road length is not advisable in this situation as a broad length road is already running and all of a sudden, it will be reduced, which will give rise to accident spots in between.”
He added, “In future (15 years estimated design life of Char Dham Road), traffic will increase on these roads and the need for a two-lane paved shoulder road can arise, when cutting the hills again will be problematic. So, we are requesting the court that if not 12m, we should at least be allowed to make 10m of road.”
Further citing strategic importance of the roads leading to the Indo-China border, the affidavit mentions that the March 2018 circular of MoRTH, “…is general in nature based on Passenger Car Unit traffic and applicable to all the hilly areas in the country. The same did not have in mind the strategic requirement for movement of military vehicles with heavy equipment especially in the Himalayan region leading to International Borders/ Line of Actual Control as well as for roads identified as economic corridors.”
Reacting to the arguments of the affidavit, Hemant Dhyani, member of HPC from minority group said, “First, environment impact assessment was deliberately by-passed, then several violations with regards to forest clearances have been done, hill cutting and tree felling continued unabated despite HPC’s request to wait for its recommendations.”
“MoRTH’s own 2018 circular for hilly terrain was kept concealed from the court and the HPC and now to say that since they have done all this work, therefore they should be allowed to continue, even in opposition to court’s order will be like rewarding and legitimising wrong actions,” added Dhyani.
Mallika Bhanot, an Uttarakhand-based environmentalist, said, “There is no notification which says that strategic roads should be of double-lane paved shoulder. The Centre is saying that there has been no fresh hill cutting, but when we go on ground, the reality is different. They are misleading the court by making such claims. Moreover, when they (MoRTH) are saying that sudden shortening of road will lead to accidents, it is true; the implementing agencies should have followed their own guidelines of March 2018 and not done excess hill cutting. The SC and the HPC had also repeatedly said that no new hill cutting should be done till their report is submitted.”