The Supreme Court has cleared the way for widening of roads as part of the Char Dham project, agreeing with the centre’s arguments that wider roads in the area were of strategic importance.
Border security concerns need to be met and movement of troops and equipment is needed, given “serious challenges to national security” in the recent past, the top court said Tuesday morning.
The Defence Ministry is a specialised body and can decide its operation requirements, a three-member bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justices Surya Kant, and Justice Vikram Nath said.
Armed forces’ infrastructure needs have to be met to safeguard borders, and highways that are of strategic importance cannot be treated the same way as those in other hilly terrains, the court said.
However, the court also acknowledged the petitioner’s environmental concerns, and said it was forming an oversight committee to be headed by a former judge of the top court.
This committee – which will report to the Supreme Court every four months on the project’s progress will also have representatives from the National Environmental Research Institute and the centre’s Ministry of Environment. Its objective is to ensure implementation of existing recommendations.
The 899-km highways project in an ecologically sensitive area of Uttarakhand – which has seen a worrying number of landslides and floods – will involve the felling of trees to widen roads that will ultimately connect the four shrines of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
The road-widening was challenged by Citizens for Green Doon, a local NGO that red-flagged immeasurable destruction to the fragile Himalayan ecosystem.
The centre, however, had said widening of roads in the area was necessary because they were ‘feeder’ roads accessing those on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.