Hill cutting for Char Dham road on in full swing: SC panel chief
Supreme Court ruled that the width of the road should not exceed the 5.5 metres that the Union road transport and highways ministry specified in 2018 for under-construction roads in mountainous terrain.Updated: Oct 03, 2020, 08:08 IST
Ravi Chopra, chairperson of the Supreme Court appointedhigh-powered committee (HPC) has written a letter to the central government pointing out that construction of the Char Dham road project is proceeding in violation of the apex court order of September 8.
In the letter addressed to the secretary of Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) and secretary of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on September 28, Chopra wrote that “hill cutting and destruction of forests are now in full swing in all ongoing projects in gross violation of the SC’s order”. HT has reviewed the contents of the letter.
On September 8, Supreme Court ruled that the width of the road should not exceed the 5.5 metres that the Union road transport and highways ministry specified in 2018 for under-construction roads in mountainous terrain. It referred to the fragility of the terrain and impact of the road width on the Himalayan ecosystem while issuing the order. The road being constructed is of width between seven and 11 meters.
“I am shocked to see reports in various newspapers…that MoRTH has informed Government of Uttarakhand that the intermediate lane design will only be used for the stretches where work has not begun as yet and that work areas where (illegal) hill cutting has been done and where plantation and other mitigation measures have to be taken as per the Court’s order September 8, 2020, will continue on the basis of the old Double Lane + Paved Shoulder. The same was also confirmed to me on the phone by the Pariyojana Chief Engineer, in-charge of MoRTH’s regional office, Mr. VS Khaira,” Chopra added in the letter, which, if true, means that the highways ministry itself is flouting the court’s order.
The Char Dham road connects the pilgrimage centres of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. The government’s position has also been that because it is in a border area abutting China, the road needs to be able to facilitate the transport of military vehicles to border areas.
Chopra said that “hill cutting and destruction of forests are now in full swing in all the ongoing projects. This is in gross violation of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order and the recommendations of the HPC, which are accepted by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Forest felling in sensitive areas like the Kund forests along NH-109 is very shocking and disturbing since it may destabilize the slope in near future.”
The chairperson has asked the central government to make its stand clear.
VS Khaira, chief engineer, regional office of MoRTH Uttarakhand and project in-charge of Char Dham road project, said that the apex’s court’s orders will not be violated in any manner.
“We will be following all the guidelines as per the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s orders. There will be no violations of any manner.”
RK Sudhanshu, secretary for Public Works Department of Uttarakhand government, said that they have not received any new directions from the central government.
“Last week we were directed by the Centre to follow the guidelines of the SC for new stretches and we will be following that. The Supreme Court’s orders will not be violated and all the work will be done according to the directions given by the court,” he added. He said that during a video conference with the central government, they were told that the SC’s order of 5.5m road will be followed for stretches where work is to be started from scratch.
That means Chopra’s comments on the width being more than that mentioned in the court order in other stretches is accurate.
As work continues, members of the HPC -- formed by SC last year to check environmental damages to the Himalayan region due to this project -- maintain that the order said the whole road should be of the width 5.5m and mitigation measures should be put in place for complying with the order.
On September 11, Ravi Chopra wrote to the secretary MoRTH seeking, “submission of a comprehensive work plan to bring the Char Dham Pariyojana in compliance with the Hon’ble Court’s direction that it will follow MoRTH’s 2018 circular”.
None has been forthcoming.
The letter also pointed out, “Also, kindly make sure that to comply with the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s Orders dated 08.09.2020 and 08.08.2019, in letter and spirit, no new hill cutting is done in all the ongoing/proposed projects till the HPC has reviewed the Rapid EIA report and issued specific directions thereafter.”