Violations continue in Chardham project, allege environmentalists

Supreme Court orders on the appropriate road width are being flouted, they say

Environmentalists have alleged that the contractors deputed by the government to make roads as part of the Chardham project are violating the Supreme Court orders on the appropriate road width to be followed in mountainous terrain.

The ₹12,000-crore project aims at constructing wider roads — spanning 825 km — connecting key pilgrimage spots in Uttarakhand. However, the implementation has been controversial with environmentalist groups pointing out that hill cutting was rampant with mountain ecosystems being irreversibly harmed in the process.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), coordinator of the project, in an affidavit to the Supreme Court on November 30, has denied any such violation. Details of vulnerable sites and areas for muck disposal were provided to the Supreme Court-constituted High Power Committee (HPC). The HPC, headed by Ravi Chopra, former Director, People’s Science Institute, and consisting of government scientists, personnel, independent activists and environmentalists, to prepare a report and a plan to implement the project with minimal ecological damage, has seen internal dissent with members split on the appropriate road width.

A majority of members said the road width ought to be 12 metres whereas a minority said it should be 5.5 m throughout.

The MoRTH’s latest affidavit says of the 825 km, 12 km “formation cutting” had already been carried out in 537 km in a sanctioned length of 662 km before the Supreme Court order that recommended a road width by the chairman of the HPC and the minority of HPC members. To now retrospectively implement a 5.5-km road width in these stretches would lead to an uneven width of 10 m to 5.5 m in short stretches and these “sudden changes in road width weren’t recommended from the perspective of road safety”.

“The MoRTH assertions are blatantly false and we have evidence of several stretches where hill cutting is under way. There were slope collapses and two crew were killed during routine muck dumping,” said Mallika Bhanot, a Himalayan activist who’s been crusading against the project. “The MoRTH violates its own regulations regarding road width on mountainous roads.”

The Supreme Court is set to continue with hearings on the petition on Wednesday.

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