INDIA GREENS PARTY
INDIA GREENS PARTY WELCOMES SUPREME COURT VERDICT ON CHARDHAM ALL-WEATHER ROAD, SAYS SAVING ECOLOGICAL SYSTEMS AND ENVIRONMENT IS FOREMOST
New Delhi, 9 September 2020: The India Greens Party (IGP) has welcomed the Supreme Court of India’s verdict on the eve of the Himalaya Day that the 2018 circular of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) on width of roads in hilly and mountainous terrains be followed in construction of the Chardham Highway project providing all-weather connectivity to four holy places in the state of Uttarakhand.
On 8 September 2020, the matter came up for hearing before a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice RF Nariman which told Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta that the authority needed to follow the 2018 guidelines. “All you have to do is to go by your 2018 guidelines. How can you not go by your own guidelines,” the bench asked Mehta.
The roads to four holy places in the hilly state of Uttarakhand — Yamunotari, Gangotari, Kedarnath and Badarinath – are to be refurbished under the ambitious all-weather Chardham Highway project. The total length of the project is 889 kilometres.
In a press statement here today, the IGP President Suresh Nautiyal said it is good that the Supreme Court has contributed significantly in saving the ecological systems and environment in the Himalayan region, adding that any project must not carry out extensive works including felling of trees in the sensitive and fragile regions like the Himalaya.
The 2018 circular of the MoRTH on the width of roads in hilly and mountainous terrains says that carriageway width shall be of intermediate lane configurations that are of 5.5-metre width with two-lane structures.
For records, Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta said that the high-powered committee has submitted its report and there are some issues, including on the aspect of road width. He said the minority view of the committee has said that intermediate carriageway width should be 5.5 metre for hilly terrain as per the 2018 circular. Mehta said the project covers areas of India-China border and as there are movements of Army vehicles, the intermediate carriage width should be 7 metres instead of the 5.5 metres.
Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the petitioner NGO, said that several directions have been violated by the authorities and this has caused devastation of mountains and trees in the area. Parikh also raised the issue of tree felling in the area due to the project.
The bench also observed that appropriate plantation be done there by the authority.
In August last year (2019), the Supreme Court had cleared the decks for the Chardham Highway project by modifying a National Green Tribunal order to constitute a high-powered committee to look into environmental concerns. It had said that the high-powered committee would consider the cumulative and independent impact of the Chardham project on the entire Himalayan region, besides other things.
Also, the Union Environment Ministry had sought responses from the MoRTH and the Uttarakhand Government about the alleged violations of the Forest Conservation Act during the construction of the Chardham Highway project in Uttarakhand.
Uttarakhand-based ecologist Ravi Chopra, the chairman of a Supreme Court-constituted High-Powered Committee (HPC), had submitted a detailed report on 13 August 2020 to uthe Union Environment Ministry specifying violations that occurred during the construction of the project.
The HPC report says that the project carried out extensive works, including felling of thousands of trees without a final forest clearance from the Environment Ministry. Project developer agencies started constructions only based on conditional Stage-1 forest clearance, and a working order was not issued for most stretches. Temporary work permissions issued for some stretches had lapsed long ago, the report said. “The entire construction work in the above-mentioned projects, including cutting of thousands of trees therefore, started illegally and in gross violation of the provisions of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980,” the report added.
The HPC report also referred to letters sent by the Uttarakhand Government to the project authorities which acknowledged that tree felling had taken place without compliance to norms.
The IGP President said it is not just road construction that has ravaged the mountain. Landslides are a recurring feature along the Chardham Highway. The Lesser Himalaya has a history of frequent landslides because of their recent origin and is, therefore, unstable.
In 2003, a massive landslide damaged more than 100 buildings. As many as 3,000 people had to be evacuated. And, heavy rains in 2016 killed scores of people and changed the landscape.
Mr Nautiyal said it is regrettable that in such an ecologically sensitive and extremely fragile region the Centre decided to launch the Rs 12,000-crore project.
The area forms the Main Central Thrust of the Lesser Himalayan region. This is where the Indian tectonic plate goes under the Eurasian Tectonic Plate. The phenomenon makes the region susceptible to earthquakes and landslides.
And, according to the Geological Survey of India, the road construction in mountains reactivates landslides as it disturbs the toe of the natural slope of the hill.
-Press Statement issued by the IGP Spokesperson (North) Rafat Jamal.
(India Greens Party is registered with the Election Commission of India under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. Registration Number: 56/476/2018-19/PPS-I, effective from 18/07/2019.)
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