The Supreme Court today asked its high-powered committee, monitoring the Chardham highway project, to consider within two weeks the applications including that of the Ministry of Defence seeking widening of roads up to 7 metres in the Indo-China Border area.
The strategic 900-km Chardham highway project aims to provide all-weather connectivity to four holy towns – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath – in Uttarakhand.
The Ministry of Defence has sought modification of the top court’s September 8 order which asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) to follow the 2018 circular stipulating carriageway width of 5.5 metre.
The bench of Justices RF Nairman, Navin Sinha and KM Joseph issued notice on all the interlocutory applications and listed the matter in third week of January, 2021.
In its application, the MoD said that it seeks modification of the order dated September 8 and directions that the National Highways from Rishikesh to Mana, from Rishikesh to Gangotri, and from Tanakpur to Pithoragarh may be developed to two-lane configuration.
It said that minority report of five-members of the High Powered Committee, including its Chairman Ravi Chopra, have relied upon the statement made by the Chief of Army Staff on September 20, 2019 to the effect that in the Bhagirathi Eco Sensitive Zone, the requirement of the army are adequately fulfilled by the existing road itself’.
However, from the beginning of this year, the situation on the ground has changed significantly, and it has become imperative that men and equipment should move swiftly from the army stations to the Indo-China border points, it said.
The MoD added, Unfortunately, though the needs of the Army was mentioned in passing, the fact is that as on date, the security of the state itself is in jeopardy especially in the background of today’s sensitive situation existing at the Line of Actual Control.
It pointed out that in these circumstances, the circulars issued by MoRTH dated October 5, 2012 and March 23, 2018 (on width of roads) do not deal with roads which are essential for the movement of troops, armament, artillery and tanks to the borders of the country to defend the nation against aggression and hence cannot be treated as covering the particular situation which the state is facing today.
The MoD said the movement would involve trucks carrying troops and equipment, and when the vehicles are returning from the border, it should be able to cross the vehicles going in the opposite directions without causing road-blocks or slowing down to a dead halt.
It said that moreover, the roads should have the capacity to facilitate the movement of heavy vehicles carrying troops, self-propelled artillery and various machinery required by the Army.
For this purpose, a double lane road having a carriageway width of 7 metre (or 7.5 metre in case there is a raised kerb) is necessary to meet the requirement of the Army. The very security of the nation is involved and therefore it has become necessary to seek modification of this court’s order dated September 8, the application said.
The Ministry further pointed out that September 8, order has serious repercussions on the defence of the country and its security interests as such a width of the roads connecting to the border areas cannot exceed 5.5 metres for the said reasons.
Three of roads covered by the said order dated September 8 namely, the road from Rishikesh to Gangotri, Rishikesh to Mana, and Tanakpur to Pithoragarh lead upto the northern border with China and act as feeder roads, it said, while giving the distance from strategic border points.
It said that these three highways connect the Army/Indo-Tibetan Border Police stations located at Joshimath, Uttarkashi, Roorkee, Raiwala, Dehradun, Tanakpur, Pithoragarh, etc to the International Border/Line of Actual Control with China.
These roads, especially in hilly and mountainous terrain have to be made suitable for quickly mobilizing heavy equipment like tanks, weapons and artillery, electronic equipment needing a motorable road. Heavy army trucks carrying provisions for thousands of troops also require good all-weather roads, the application has said.
The top court had noted in its September 8 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 last year, 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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