The Supreme Court today allowed the Centre to respond to the “allegations” of the Chairman of committee on Chardham project linking broadening of the road to the recent flash floods on Dhauliganga river, which damaged the Tapovan hydro project in Uttarakhand.
Attorney General KK Venugopal told the top court that he would file a response to a letter of the chairman of a high-powered committee in which several “allegations” have been made with regard to broadening of the road and the recent disaster in the state.
The high-powered committee is monitoring the Chardham highway project on the widening of the roads up to Indo-China border in Uttarakhand.
Mr Venugopal said that the high-powered committee chairperson Ravi Chopra has on his own written a letter to the government linking the disaster with the Chardham project.
Taking note of his submission, a bench comprising Justices RF Nariman, Hemant Gupta and BR Gavai, said, “You file response to it”, listing the matter for hearing after two weeks.
The strategic 900-km Chardham highway project aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four holy towns of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath in Uttarakhand.
The top court on January 18 had asked the parties to file their replies or objections, if any, on the report filed by the high-powered committee.
The Centre had urged the top court to accept the majority report of 21-members of the high powered committee recommending the road to be developed to two-lane with paved shoulders (10 metre wide carriageway) considering the strategic requirement and snow removal needs.
The Centre in its affidavit had said that pursuant to the direction of the court on December 2, last year, the High-Powered Committee (HPC) met on December 15-16, 2020, and deliberated on the issue of width of the road. It said that the report was submitted to the top court on December 31 last.
“That the report of HPC is again split primarily on the issue of the width of the road, with 21 members (16 members plus co-opted members) recommending the road to be developed to two-lane with paved shoulders (10 metre wide carriageway) considering the strategic requirement and snow removal needs, as per the provisions of Indian Road Congress: 52-2019 as well as the modified circular dated December 15, 2020 issued by MoRTH, with proper safeguards for landslides control measures…,” the affidavit said.
It said that three members, including the chairman Ravi Chopra (minority report), is still impressing upon the width of 5.5 metres as provided under the earlier circular dated March 23, 2018 issued by Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), notwithstanding the security needs of the country and the need of the defence forces to resist external aggression, if any, as the Indo-China border.
“It is respectfully submitted that the majority report has taken a holistic view of the matter keeping in mind the social, economic and strategic needs of the country on the one hand and protecting the environment on the other,” the Centre had said.
It had added that the project proponent is duty bound to minimize the adverse impact of the Chardham project on environment as well as the social life and bring the project in conformity with the steep valley terrain, carrying capacity and avoiding any triggering of new landslides, ensuring conservation and protection of sensitive Himalayan valleys.
Earlier, the Ministry of Defence has sought modification of the top court’s September 8, last year order which asked the MoRTH to follow the 2018 circular stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre, citing the prevailing situation on Indo-China border points.
The top court had noted in its September 8, last year order that the majority of 13 members of the high-powered committee was in favour of applying MoRTH circular of 2012 which had laid down a certain standard.
In August, 2019, the top court had cleared the decks for the Chardham highway project by modifying an National Green Tribunal order to constitute a high-powered committee to look into environmental concerns.
It had said that the high-powered committee shall consider the cumulative and independent impact of the Chardham project on the entire Himalayan valley, besides other things.
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