Supreme Court allows widening of Char Dham roads citing security
The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the central government to go ahead with the Char Dham Highway project. It cleared the construction of 10-meter wide roads as opposed to an earlier order allowing 5.5-meter wide roads. The court also ordered the formation of a committee to look at the environmental aspects of the project. Here are more details on this.
Why does it matter?
- The 900-kilometer-long project is aimed at providing all-weather connectivity to four holy towns in Uttarakhand — Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath.
- Centre says the project also holds strategic importance as it goes up to the Indo-China border.
- However, the construction remains controversial as it involves cutting of trees.
- Environmental activists say it will cause heavy damage to the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.
Justice Chandrachud-led bench orders
A three-member Supreme Court bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud said there needs to be a balance between meeting defense needs and protecting the environment. It added the Defense Ministry is a specialized body and the court cannot decide its operational requirements. It "cannot second guess the requirements of the (Indian) Army," the bench remarked.
'How will we fight a war?'
Attorney General KK Venugopal, representing the Centre, argued the project is crucial in view of the recent tensions along the Indo-China border. "Our Brahmos missile is 42 feet long and (the Army) needs large vehicles to carry its launchers. If the Army cannot move its missile launchers to the northern China border, then how will it fight a war, if it breaks out?"
What did the petitioner say?
The project was challenged by Citizens for Green Doon, a local non-governmental body working for environmental causes. During the hearing, it said the Army never sought widening of roads in the area. "Someone high up in political power wanted highways on the Char Dham Yatra. And the Army then became a reluctant participant," the NGO told the court.
SC forms committee over environmental concerns
To address environmental concerns, the Supreme Court said it would set up a committee to be headed by Justice AK Sikri — a former judge of the top court. The panel will also include representatives from the National Environmental Research Institute and the Ministry of Environment. It will report to the Supreme Court every four months and aim implementation of existing recommendations.